Change requires practice

Shifting our focus from always having to be right toward a commitment to “get it right” is one of my favorite concepts that Brene Brown hammers home in her book Dare to Lead. This compulsion to know all the answers and be right all the time is a heavy burden. Lay it down!

Getting it right is a whole different ball game. When we work to “get it right” it makes us curious - we can ask, how can I improve? It creates an atmosphere of humility. We can assume that we have more to learn. We can think of ourselves as scientists running our own customized experiments. “Getting it right” implies process. It promises improvement without demanding perfection. It provides direction when we’ve lost our way without the need to blame or defend ourselves for the confusion.

After a terrible six month stretch of sickness I found a trainer to help me get strong because I was feeling so very weak. (The bear in the woods example came to my mind often in those days.) My trainer knows more about how to customize fitness to my particular brand of weakness than I could have ever imagined. Over a year into the process, I see progress. My “get up” form is decent. I can press a 20 pound Kettlebell with each arm for multiple reps. I can hold the plank position for longer than I thought possible. I practice my deadlifts several times a week and am making decent progress with my weight progression. I am getting stronger.

But in each of the above exercises, every single week, my trainer finds something to correct and improve in terms of my form or my degree of weight difficulty. Just today we worked extensively on repositioning my arm just a few little inches during a particular exercise. Without her, I would not be this particular. But without her, I would also not be making progress.

What do you need to change? Who can help you practice changing? Today I receive comfort and joy as I surrender to the process of being a willing student and active participant in my own recovery. I could not do it without a great coach. What kind of coaching might you benefit from?

Rest battles fantasy living

Once a year Pete and I try to get away for a week or two. It’s not a vacation so much as it is a retreat. We go to the same place every year. The environment is beautiful and predictable. We rent a friend’s house and there is little access to our traditional numbing distractions. We cannot work; we cannot eat food for convenience sake (i.e. fast food that is not as healthy as other choices); we cannot get distracted with the news or sporting events or lifetime movies.

We bring nutritious foods and eat in. Exercising on paddle boards and kayaks, hiking up and down the mountain to the lake’s dock and setting up a portable gym in the basement - it’s so much fun AND offers comfort and joy that is pure gold. We read. We rest. We play games. Pete says that watching the clouds float across the sky is as close to pure peace as he ever gets. I agree.

Because of what we learned at the lake, we have begun to institute comfort and joy rituals at home too. We play board games at night after dinner. We go for a walk together. We read. We find pockets of time to rest - something we rarely gave ourselves permission for in the past. Our old way of thinking about change did not include dollops of comfort and joy. Perhaps that is why we were so frustrated by our lack of meaningful change!!

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

~ Psalm 91:1-2 NIV

Comfort and Joy

We misidentify comfort and joy. That’s a problem. This is easy enough to understand when we think about a kid who has an opioid problem and is laying on a gurney in the ER. Shouldn’t this problem be obvious? I’ve been in more than one ER with someone revived by Naloxone whose first words are a complaint: “Hey, who ripped my favorite jeans? Don’t you dare call my parents! Is my friend here? I gotta get out of here!!”

“Whaaat? You almost died dude!” I say this because I think the using is the problem. This person, knocked into sudden withdrawal by a life-saving dose of Naloxone identifies a different problem: he thinks he needs more drugs to feel normal.

Let me step on toes a bit. Booze to take the edge off; food; binge-watching TV; scrolling through facebook - these are also a form of opioid. Although they will not kill us quickly like an opioid OD will, they do diminish our experience of living. The behaviors are not the problem; the problem is what we are hoping the behavior will accomplish. Dependencies do not offer genuine comfort and joy. They distract and numb. But we THINK they are comforting us, maybe even bringing us joy. Or else we wouldn’t choose those behaviors to depend on.

Want to change? Start by paying attention. What are your false comforts and adrenalin-laced joys?

When meetings are "too sad"

I sound like a broken record. This is a fact. Consistently I suggest to families struggling with a variety of ailments to GET HELP. What kind of help? Therapy, support groups, education, practice boundaries and spiritual disciplines. I am not only a broken record, but my song is LONG. And people do not like it.

I suppose that is why the local pill doctor is wildly popular while folks in recovery programs at various times struggle to hang in and show up.

It turns out we all tend to resist the very thing we need the most. As we resist what we need, our resentment and anxiety ratchets up. We were created to live in community, learn things, practice boundaries and spiritual disciplines. We don’t “run” so well fueled by fantasy living, denial, and resistance to change.

In AA they talk about how we all want a softer, gentler way. The softer, gentler way doesn’t build muscles, it just makes us flabby.

Let me appeal to your anxiety, foreboding joy, and competitive spirit. In a crisis, the survivors are the ones who have the skills, the muscles, and the strength of character to persevere. Our endless quest for no pain with a side order of soft and gentle is not going to serve us well. If we are with a group of people in the woods and we happen upon a bear, who survives? Certainly not the softest, slowest delectable morsel in the group. You may not need to be an Olympic athlete to get away from that bear, but you darn well better be faster than the slowest person in your party.

Meetings can indeed be sad, as I am told on occasion by those who really do not want to attend them. Attenders sometimes hear sad stories of loss, relapse, and hopelessness. But you also hear, as I did last Thursday night in our Family Education meeting, a small but sturdy chorus of voices who are able to say that their loved one is in long term recovery. The family’s presence bears witness to the family’s recovery also.

If we want transformation, we do not need to be perfect. But we do need to notice how our resentments and anxieties sometimes trip us up, causing us to resist the work that opens the door to change and transformation.

When we notice numbing behaviors, start asking: where am I resentful? What am I anxious about? Hang in with the answer. Ride the wave of discomfort.

Somebody is avoiding the truth

When my grandson does something he KNOWS is not preferred, he has a clever way of reframing the issue. Here are some samples of his work:

“SOMEBODY is going upstairs.” [Christian is only allowed to go upstairs with an adult.]

“SOMEBODY spilled their yemonade on their pants.” [Christian is practicing drinking lemonade with a straw. It’s messy. He isn’t a fan of messy.]

“SOMEBODY threw their firetruck.” [We are learning to not throw our toys.]

“SOMEBODY needs to go see Pops.” [Even though Pops is on a conference call and is off-limits.]

The list goes on.

Our response, “Which somebody?” Big pause. Bashful grin. Avoidance. The adults wait patiently for a response.

Eventually, he says, “Christian Thomas…”

Why is it important that we not chuckle over SOMEBODY? Even though, come on, it is hilarious, right?

Because this will only be funny until it is a habit he cannot break when he is 40 and his marriage is on the rocks because he cannot own his stuff. {See foreboding joy.}

Change is hard enough without having to fight our own insecurity. Making mistakes is part of the process. Some of us hate that more than others, but all of us need to make mistakes in order to learn.

We do not shame Christian over SOMEBODY; but we do give him the opportunity to get it right. That’s a skill that we all need. We need to be able to practice being teachable, learning, and trying until we get it good enough.

Has stubbornness gotten in SOMEBODY’S way lately?

Numbness and Fantasy Living

The most effective way I know of to stay the same is to either stay numb or commit to fantasy living. If we want to avoid change, these are two guaranteed ways to succeed. Numbing can be anything - too many Lifetime movie binges rather than actually participating in life is one way.

Since we are fortunate enough to have grandchildren this year, I was happy when the clan decided to go to a Christmas tree lighting in our neighborhood. They are so much fun when you watch them acted out in a Christmas movie.

In our situation, we had to wait almost an hour for a table at the restaurant where we were going to eat before walking to the tree lighting. It was bitterly cold out, and the marshmallow roast looked like risky business for a two year old (Can you say foreboding joy?). The hot chocolate stand was over-crowded and under-prepared for demand. The tree lighting itself was preceded by a series of song and dance routines - which I enjoyed, but the babies did not. Half the group left before the tree sparkled and those of us that waited were underwhelmed by the lights. If we want spectacular, the television was the way to go.

But we did not want spectacular. We wanted experience. Together. As a family. And if that’s what we wanted, then there was joy. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We talked, we laughed, we fed a baby and listened to a toddler yell, “Where’s my cheese quesadilla?” Pete even got confused and went into the women’s restroom instead of the men’s. You cannot find that on the Hallmark Channel.

This is life on life’s terms. It’s all we have and it is more than we could hope for - so long as we are not numbing and not pretending.

How has fantasy living messed with your reality?

When has numbing caused you to under-react to a problem in search of a solution?

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

~ 1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV

Scarcity over Celebration

Brene Brown has written about the concept “foreboding joy.” It seems to me that what she describes as foreboding joy is that feeling we get when we are afraid to be too happy because it might jinx our good news. When my daughter was pregnant I had a very hard time believing that she was actually pregnant. As her girth expanded, I came to accept this as possible good news but I struggled to feel joy - because what if? What if something went wrong?

Christian is two now and I celebrate both his and Norah’s, our granddaughter’s, existence every single day. But in the dark of night, after a long day, when I am feeling vulnerable and discouraged that thousands of people will get in fights over a free piece of cheesecake but cannot be bothered to call 911 when their neighbor is being attacked - on those days, I start to sense an attack of foreboding joy. If left it its own devices, foreboding joy can steal our present day moments of real joy. I use various coping strategies to stave off foreboding joy - most of the time these skills are effective. They also make it more likely that I will be able to do what it takes to change what is needed in order to improve both my conscious contact with God and my capacity to bear his image. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Find a way to get in touch with gratitude daily. Just do it.

2. Add rituals that are calming after hectic days of showing up for commitments - exercise as a transition from work to home, journal, Exam prayer, meditation, yoga, sleep with a fuzzy weighted blanket, keep your bedroom dark and cold, play board games rather than zoning out in front of the tv (no scary movies if you do turn on the tube), read good books (not thrillers).

3. Eat nutritionally so you won’t be as tempted to stress eat at night; avoid caffeine.

4. To avoid getting agitated before bedtime, cut off technology a couple hours before sleeping. Emails that arrive at night are almost always problems.

5. Find ways to take breaks during the day so that you aren’t so exhausted that you cannot rest at night. When I get called to the hospital for an emergency it can be stressful and often brings sad and bad news. I ALWAYS treat myself with something after I am finished at the hospital. I may go walk through the aisles at Barnes & Noble. I may go to my favorite barista and order a delicious decaf treat. I do something to balance the sorrow out and take a pause, even if the break is small.

6. Work play into your day.

7. Plan to start your day with doing something that takes care of you first, before you start caring for others. Drink your coffee out of a beautiful mug; put your breakfast on a pretty plate; have a quiet time; do a yoga stretch; get your walk in, etc. The goal is to be able to say, if your day goes to hell in a handbasket, “Hey, the day didn’t go as planned BUT I sure enjoyed _______ before all hell broke loose.” Some days, this is enough.

Change is about hanging in and being consistent; it is easier to do that when you are enjoying yourself.

...you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.

~ 1 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV

Perfection and Failure

I remember the year that I decided my New Year’s resolution would be something wild and crazy - commit to healthy eating. No sugar. A lot of lettuce and sprouts. We spent New Year’s Eve at the beach with our friends and headed home mid-day on January 1st. Pete, who had no such delusions regarding his eating habits, had a two pound bag of M&M’s sitting between us in the front console. Mindlessly, I munched away. Then I remembered - Oh, no! My New Year’s resolution is RUINED!! I guess there is no hope for change.

I probably ate 20 M&M’s - which was enough to convince me that the year was blown. This kind of all-or-nothing thinking is the hallmark of perfectionism. It is destructive. It is a set up. It serves as a simple and extremely effective strategy for not actually having to DO, COMMIT, CHANGE.

Should we just give up? Heck no! We can work at improving. We can give up on the lie that we are what we do - especially if other people notice and praise us for our excellence. Healthy efforts to change are NOT about performance or perfecting. What is it about?

1. Evaluate self without tying it to what other people think.

2. Ask the question: How can I make progress toward my goal?

Scott told a story in a recent message about an experiment where folks were given the instruction to figure out how to get everything on the table mounted to the wall (candles/matches/box of thumb tacks). One group was told that time was not a factor; take as much time as you needed. The second group was instructed to go as fast as they could in order to win a prize. Which group was quicker? Group one.

Performance pressures decrease our abilities. Stress reduces our dexterity, our creativity, our ability to perform. Perfectionism is not helpful for becoming more successful. Good enough is an attitude that creates more success. The pressure to be the best inevitably reduces our chances of being #1.

Perfectionism is the enemy of transformation. It’s a tiny god that demands feeding but gives nothing in return but shame and guilt. How can we encourage self-compassion and a commitment to growth? One way is to find a way to encourage empathy even as we join together in daring to dream that we can be and do better at bearing the image of God.

What is distracting you?

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

~ Romans 1:23

Take a pause and journal or make a list or consult with your sponsor or spiritual director. Ask for feedback. Give yourself time to really think about this:

In what ways are you chasing after free cheesecake?

What distracts you from living with more intention?

How can you find the peace that comes when our resolutions align with our core values and intentions for life?

I remember a conversation I had many years ago with a young woman who was having a devil of a time stringing sobriety days together. She was extremely frustrated with her family’s reaction to her relapses. She felt they had turned cold toward her. They no longer were willing to “share in her suffering” after a relapse. They were done talking about it and they were unwilling to act as if she was sustaining long term recovery. They stopped counting on her; they stopped expressing sorrow when she didn’t show up for a family event. She was livid. She felt this showed a lack of Christian love. She felt they were not working a solid recovery program. She talked about all her experience in treatment, and waxed eloquent about what everyone around her was doing to ruin her recovery experience.

She had no clue how foolish her words sounded. Although she had access to a strong recovery support network, she exchanged that opportunity (privilege really) for the chance to blame others.

Are there any exchanges that you are making? At what cost?

Resolutions can be bigger than our insecurities

My musings continued (so this won’t make sense if you didn’t read yesterday’s blog):

Apologizing in advance for presuming to add content to anything Brene` Brown has to say, I would add this to her quote (with all due respect): [the courage to be vulnerable]...is also about showing up when absolutely nothing is offered you. No free cheesecake. No warm fuzzies. No personal benefit at all.

Aren’t most of our resolutions a structured way to address our own insecurities, weaknesses, and anxieties? Lose weight. Find a loving relationship. Change careers. Hike the Himalayas. Get botox. Deadlift 300 pounds.

Are those really things we need to be RESOLUTE about?

So what is worth being RESOLUTE for? It depends on our core values I suppose. But what I hope we will all consider is that thousands of people RESOLUTELY went out for a piece of free cheesecake who may or may not be RESOLUTE about loving like God loves.

I closed my impromptu note with a prayer. Because if anything is true, it is this: we are desperately in need of prayer, transformation, and a commitment to something bigger than a free piece of cheesecake.

This is my prayer for you...May we show ourselves more compassion and more respect than has been our habit, daring to believe that we are destined to show up for others, sacrifice for something more profound than a carb-laden sweet treat. May we begin to practice standing up under the pressure of inconvenience over indulgence - because we know we are better than pettiness and selfish indulgence. May be do something nice for someone else even as it costs us something we are not quite sure we can afford to give. May we show more compassion to ourselves by being more compassionate than we knew we could muster. May we live with more courage and conviction than we knew we possessed. May we choose daily to live with more conscious intention than the Cheesecake Factory story gives us much reason to hope for on the part of humanity...and let’s be honest, in ourselves. May we dare to believe that together, we can do hard things. Inconvenient things. Things that are not our preference. Amen

Make 2019 the year we that act on our good intentions. Do hard things. We are image bearers. We can do better.

What do you show up for?

In December our community was hit with an unusual blast of winter snow. Some report up to 11 inches fell in less than a day. This pretty much shuts this Southern town down. In the quiet of the early morning, when I knew that there was no need to get out of stretchy pants, comb my hair or shower, I sat by the fire and thought about a recent article I had read and its implications for the future of the world. Or at least, the future of Northern Virginia. Here’s what I wrote:

Calls poured into Arlington Country’s police department this week. The reason was unexpected. The local Cheesecake Factory was giving away 40,000 pieces of their signature cheesecake to celebrate their anniversary. The promotion clogged roads, a fistfight broke out, one person was hospitalized and another charged with disorderly conduct. All for a free slice of cheesecake.

It makes me wonder on this snowing Virginia morning, snuggling with my grand dog in front of a cozy fire - what do I show up for? What would be compelling enough to torpedo me out of this recliner and into the cold. What would be worth getting jammed up in traffic and willfully breaking out in “fisiticuffs” (a quote from the AP article), all in the pursuit of...what?

I love cheesecake; but don’t you think that most of the people who entered the fray could have afforded to pay for one piece of cheesecake without all the hassle? I wonder if the great cheesecake grab of December 2018 was more about winning than noshing. It would be easy to enter into the competition. The victory was assured. All participants had to do was show up.

What am I willing to show up for? What does it cost me? What am I willing to pay?

In Brene Brown’s newest book Dare to Lead she writes, “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.”

Resolutions, the ones that I suspect really matter, need to be more about vulnerability and courage than they are about winning or losing. But most of my resolutions are about achieving; striving; beating; having; acquiring. If that’s the case, if I can extrapolate from Brown’s perspective, the trouble with my resolutions is about what I’ve chosen to be resolute about and why I have chosen that particular resolution.

Could that be a problem you struggle with too?

To be continued...

We may not change

We’re one week into a new year. What are you going to do about it? Set resolutions? Give up and NOT set resolutions because it’s too discouraging when you have failed by the third week in January? Yep. Me too. I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions. I love to make them; I hate it when I cannot live up to their promise.

In 2019 it is possible that you may not change in any significant way. Are you ok with that? Is it okay to be okay with that way of living? Is this acceptance or nihilism?

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless.

I am not okay with not changing in 2019. I want to keep growing and I assume that means that change is required.

I am not giving up on the possibility that I can get better with age. Like a fine wine. Or Helen Mirren.

For the next few days or so, I’m going to blog about some of the issues in my own life that have stymied my capacity for growth and as a by-product, change.

I hope that by visiting my past mistakes, I might find a path forward for meaningful change, i.e., transformation. We can fake change or submit to the process of actually doing the work of change. I am too old to fake it. How about you? Are you willing to think about what is holding you back?

Caring for yourself helps your relationships

When it comes to maintaining relationships or ending them, can we all acknowledge that it is very hard and often tricky? May I suggest that we all need to be doing our own work - self-care, accountability for our stuff, finding moments of respite, on and on.

This kind of focus on ourselves is not selfish, it is restorative. It is awfully hard to have healthy relationships with others if we do not have a healthy relationship with ourselves.

How are you doing with your own responsible living? Need to make any adjustments?

Suggestions for rebuilding trust

I’ve learned a few things from watching others rebuild trust, here are a couple of suggestions:

1. If you are the person who threw away trust, then find others (a trust spiritual advisor or a therapist) to talk about your frustrations with the yukky space of broken trust. Don’t complain to the person you broke trust with. Don’t ask them to make YOU feel better.

2. Over accommodate the person whose trust you lost. Ask for feedback as to how to regain trust. FInancial issues? Be so transparent in all your financial dealings that the other person cannot help but notice your change of heart. Cheating? Again. Over-comply with their desires for transparency. Give them the code to your phone. Hide nothing about your daily doings. As long as what they ask of you is not illegal, immoral or fattening, help them learn to trust you.

3. If you are the person who lost trust, be clear and specific about your needs. You deserve to have your wishes granted as trust is re-established.

4. Do NOT rush to say you have forgiven, although of course forgiveness is a thing. Demanding that you be a forgiving person before you have actually forgiving erodes trust in a different way.

5. If you and your partner/friend/business associate, cannot agree as to whether trust has or has not been broken, go to a trusted third party to hash out the details.

6. Finally - small acts of kindness and grace go a long way to rebuild trust on both people’s part. Try not to seek revenge; try not to burn bridges; try to seek compassionate ways to deal with your conflict.

Remember, we all break trust at one point or another. Let’s try to be gentle with one another.

Demanding trustworthiness does not work

I once knew a family that was dealing with infidelity. And the offender eventually grew weary of being the untrustworthy one. She wanted to know why her husband wasn’t being held to his Christian duty of forgiveness. Wasn’t he a Christian after all? Shouldn’t he forgive her like the good Christian man he is?

To which he replied - “I’m wondering the same thing about you. I’m wondering how you, a good Christian woman, cheated on me with my friend.”

Yikes. That’s a good question. Notice how easy it is for us to avoid talking about the issue at hand simply by pointing out each other’s hypocrisy.

This conversation is a trust eroder. Once trust is lost, it is very hard to re-establish.

So here’s a thought - could we work hard to build and maintain trust, rather than demanding others give it back when we throw it away?

Trust and grace

Love covers a multitude of sins. The Bible says so. But I think trust can certainly be helpful too, especially when we make a mistake, even a big one, in relationships. Am I the only person who has been inattentive in a relationship? Unkind? Selfish? I didn’t think so!!

Everyone has bad days, even horrible ones, that can cause deep cracks in the integrity of a relationship. Sort of like my friends who are having trouble feeling love for one another in their marriage. Both have made some mistakes. Trust has eroded.

If trust is in place, we have some wriggle room. Some grace.

Last weekend I made a mistake in a family relationship. I knew I was making the mistake even as I was making it, but we were in a group, and there was nothing to be done but carry on. I meant to talk about it as soon as the event was over, but I forgot. Later that day, one of my kids brought up the incident.

I was so grateful. What if I had forgotten to circle back and address the issue? I IMMEDIATELY agreed that I had messed up - because I had! This kid quickly extended me grace. We moved on to the next topic at hand.

Now, I think the reason my BIG mistake did not become a horrible relationship conflict was because there was some trust that this is not a pattern. If I keep making this same mistake, it will erode trust. See how that works? Trust helped.

How do we build trust? One teeny tiny step at a time. We can erode it that same way. What we cannot do is grand gestures that restore trust.

Are you building trust in your relationships by being trustworthy a reasonable percentage of the time?

Rebuilding trust

I have friends who are struggling with trusting one another. There is no reason for this, as far as I can see. There has been no infidelity; they share the same core values; they have a common and strong faith; they have a similar vision for family life and both desperately desire to build a strong family.

But they aren’t feeling the love.

Lately we’ve been talking about building trust. And they both are very confused about why this is the topic of conversation. Instead, they want to talk about conflict resolution or communication or maybe how I should get the OTHER spouse to change in this way or that. I’m not willing to play.

I am sticking to my guns. We need to talk about trust.

Realizing I am stubborn they stopped asking for 5 easy steps for communicating without conflict and chose a new path: can we please, please talk about intimacy? What they meant, we figured out, was vulnerability. They wanted to be able to be honest with one another without feeling like they were just providing ammunition for the other one to use in the next argument.

Nope. Trust. We are going to talk about trust.

“But we do trust each other!” they say. It turns out that they can agree on things if it means they are both united in disagreeing with me!!

If I’ve learned anything from the work of Brene Brown it is this: trust and vulnerability go together like peanut butter and jelly. If you do not have one, you lose the other.

Trust. It’s the antidote that can help with a lot of issues that might cause a relationship to end. Because let’s face it - we can all be knuckleheads when it comes to relationships.

To be continued…

Pay attention in your relationships

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

~ Proverbs 18:24 The Message

How do we develop trust in relationships? Well, for sure it is NOT being perfect. In fact, it might just be the opposite of perfection. It probably isn’t grand gestures or heroic acts - because, come on, how often is that even necessary?

But it might include: paying attention.

A while back I had an extremely stressful event happen. And my friend noticed. How do I know this? Because if her response. She was paying attention. In her attentiveness, she did a few things that were so supportive, helpful and encouraging - at a time when she herself was certainly busier than a one-armed paper hanger.

Over the course of a number of months, a number of people in our community lost people they loved. So when we gathered the week after Thanksgiving for one of our regular meetings, we took time to ask each of those people about their holiday in light of their loss. Afterwards, one of the mourners came up and said to me, “I cannot believe that you remembered.”

Due to my advancing age, I need to be honest, I am grateful I remembered too!! Paying attention to what is important helps us remember. A gracious community that takes into account memory loss certainly helps on the days when we forget.

Are you paying attention to what really matters? There are so many benefits, including a propensity to feel less self-pity, loneliness and depression. When we pay attention, we realize that we are not alone, in fact, we are usually in the company of others who are going through the exact same thing we are!

How you build relationship matters

How we cultivate relationships has wide reaching effects. My daughter is as (or more) likely to my friend when she needs help as she is me. A few of my own children’s friends have turned to me over the years when they were heartbroken or burdened with a weighty decision rather than their parents. My husband, Pete, has had a couple of “lunch and lectures” with kids who had their own parents but had spent enough time in our home that we had permission to have a crucial conversation over an issue that needed addressing.

I always felt when my children were younger that if something happened to Pete and I, my children would continue to be well loved. I hope my friends thought the same in reverse.

This does not happen in a vacuum. We do not accidentally create a village to support the nurturing and growing of the next generation. This is hard work and requires intentionality.

I think this commitment to working hard at maintaining relationships deserves our attention. It makes our lives richer; it improves the community; it makes it easier for the outcasts and the suffering to find a safe harbor. The weight of suffering can be born easier by the community than just one person.

I challenge us all to keep tending to the village. Our lives depend on it.

Trust is not the same as being like-minded

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.

~ Proverbs 18:24 The Message

Even as a child, I learned one particular non-negotiable relationship issue. It was trust. I learned that the difference between someone my grandparents were friendly with and someone for whom they counted on was predicated on trust. My grandmother was wicked smart; she watched people; she let people have the time it took to teach her whether or not she could trust them. I’m not sure if others necessarily knew which list they were on, but my grandmother was crystal clear. She could be friendly with everyone, but she trusted only those that taught her they could be trusted. She was patient; she waited for people to teach her who they were and if they could be trusted with her most vulnerable realities. For her, trust was NOT about total agreement on all subjects, it was about whether or not a person had the capacity to care and be cared for as circumstances dictated.

My grandmother maintained a certain amount of watchful but kind distance in some relationships, she even had a couple of notable compassionate endings to relationships that proved incompatible with the community she was part of. Many benefited from her quiet ability to be a good friend to others and choose her own friends wisely.