Holding for a Friend

Some time last year, I wrote about holding space for each other. It’s something we do when a friend needs us to be present with them. There’s no judgement, no criticism. Physical presence is not even required – They only need to know that you are there, holding a space for them if and when they want to occupy it. My friends have done it for me. It is amazingly comforting.

I am blessed to be surrounded by some strong women who have survived a great deal of grief, overcome some tremendous challenges. We get together to laugh, play games and socialize. Our focus is seldom on our histories as we prefer to enjoy the present. But when there is one among us who is facing a difficult time, we bare our scars like warriors and circle our wagons around her.

But space is not the only thing we hold for one another during troubled times.

When we take ourselves too seriously, for example, we hold humor. You see, I firmly believe that it’s a healthy thing to fantasize about (or even plan) the unfortunate demise of a soon-to-be ex who is causing pain to a close friend. Laughter truly is the best medicine.

If we get pulled down the rabbit hole of self-destructive thought, we hold balanced reality. Just because someone believes it or says it, doesn’t make it the truth! It’s easy to feel your own convictions slip when you’re overwhelmed or being manipulated. It’s our friends’ job to hold up a mirror and reflect our own self worth back to us.

When we lose sight of hope, we hold a vision of a better tomorrow. In the midst of chaos, we hold a peaceful future. We know it’s coming because we’ve been where you are. We survived and it made us stronger. You will, too.

And we’ll be right here, waiting for you. (We’ll try not to say ‘I told you so.’)

Letting Go after Change and Loss

There are always things that no longer serve us well: Routines, photographs, tee shirts. We hang on to them because, well, they aren’t necessarily bad for us. We’ve simply outgrown them. Whether it’s a piece of furniture, a feeling or a relationship, letting go can be really, really hard.

I think it’s particularly true following a period of change or loss. Holding on to parts of our former identity is what helps us cope. Transition is difficult and familiarity comforts us. We grasp things that remind us of the stability we’ve lost.

Sometimes, we get lost in the reeds, though . A sigh of relief is welcome, once the dust starts to settle and the major change is behind us. Our reprieve is extended and we lose our momentum. We might become complacent and even believe we deserve the break. Without even realizing it, we are stuck.

What can we do?

It might be a good time to take inventory – Examine those things to which we are holding on that are just good enough. It could be a relationship that has helped us through a difficult time. Or, perhaps a household item that we’ve kept just because it has been with us for so long. It might even be a perception about ourselves that is no longer accurate or useful.

We bring things with us that we believe we will need in that magical place called the future. But we need to stop and consider that we could have been wrong. Once we arrive at that new place in our lives, we should reassess.

One thing that prevents us from moving forward and getting ourselves unstuck is something that is traditionally thought of as a good thing. It’s the very foundation of what likely kept us going in the first place: Hope.

Let me explain. Maybe we hoped that things would work out with that new guy. Perhaps we hoped that we’d lose the weight and wear that dress again. We hoped that our new place would have room for the box of sentimental nick-nacks that were Mom’s. But he didn’t, we didn’t and it’s not!

Holding on to things that no longer serve us blocks the way of new and better things entering our lives. We want to avoid the emotional pain and fear that comes with letting go. Truth is, that pain will ease over time. Holding on, however, will continue to hurt forever. If we desire peace, then we must be brave enough to let go.

I found peace in the most unlikely place – right in the middle of the most chaotic time of my life. I was letting go of so much – things, places, relationships – the pain was unbearable at times. I often marveled at the irony of feeling an incredible inner peacefulness among such chaos and ruin.

Then, the dust settled. I sat back and allowed myself to relax. After all, I had certainly earned it. It had been a turbulent year and I reveled in the opportunity to sit back and do nothing. The result was stagnation. Without negative energy flowing out, there can be no good energy flowing in.

Anytime is a good time to take inventory and identify those things that no longer serve us. That time following change or loss is crucial. You’ll feel lighter. You’ll find peace amid the turbulence. Determine when hope might be destructive. Let go of the things that no longer serve you and anticipate the flow of good things that come to you!

Dear Future Lover

Dear Future Lover,

You are not my first. But I hope you are the last. Can you save me from the endless parade of desperate fools? Can you save me from myself? It’s a very tall order. The criteria is extensive. It is the result of having met so many potential partners who disappointed me, as well as a few who did not. I’ve learned what I want. And what I don’t. What’s necessary and what’s negotiable.

Dear Future Lover,

Do you know that making love to me is the sum of our time spent together and not something that begins when the lights go out? It’s not an isolated event, but a continuum. It happens all day long. It’s happening right now.

Dear Future Lover,

Can you ease the loneliness I feel when I’m driving late at night and no one knows where I am? No one is waiting to hear my tires on the gravel, my key in the door. Are you willing to wait up until you hear that I’ve arrived safely? I’ll always do the same, for you.

Dear Future Lover,

Will I finally know what it’s like to hear the words to a song on the radio and feel that it was written for me – for us? Are you willing to be the object of my romantic fantasies? Will you indulge me with the hope of a real and lasting love? Can you accept that I remain a hopeless romantic, despite all of the failures and near misses? Please know that I have learned the lessons with each heartache and will act in a manner rooted in harsh reality. But I will never abandon my dreams.

Dear Future Lover,

Can you allow me the security of spending time apart without guilt or suspicion? Will you respect my boundaries and understand that I treasure my time alone? Do you recognize that my other interests and relationships feed me, too, and contribute to my well-being? Can you share me with the rest of the world with confidence, knowing that I will always return to you better off for having had the experience?

Dear Future Lover,

Will you sit outside with me in the evening, as Summer turns to Fall, knowing that this is one of the times I enjoyed alone but longed for someone with whom to share it? Listen to the crickets, witness the rising moon, feel the day’s heat dissipate… please don’t trivialize the moment or spoil it with impatience.

Dear Future Lover,

Can you stimulate my mind, challenge me with your intellect? A high IQ is not necessary – Just a curious nature and a desire for insight. Show me what you have learned on your journey thru life and how it has shaped you. Have there been mistakes….. or only lessons? We all have history… what has yours taught you?

Dear Future Lover,

Will you meet my gaze and look into my eyes? Are you brave enough to risk what we might find there? Can you reach beyond the walls that pain built and see into my heart, finding the courageous part that waits for you? Do you dare expose your own fragile defenses in the hope of finding that which you seek? Or are you afraid? Can you trust me with that fear?

Dear Future Lover,

Can you be in control without being controlling? Do you understand the difference between confidence and arrogance? Your masculinity is amazing – The yin to my yang. It’s a beautiful dance, a fluid balance. Can you allow it to ebb and flow?

Dear Future Lover,

I love easily. I love hard. I believe it’s the only way. I’ve learned that not everybody knows how to respond to that. Do you? Or, will my intensity make you uncomfortable and squeamish? I’m a straight shooter in a world full of broken arrows. Be ready.

Dear Future Lover,

I’ll tell you about the scars on my heart and the wounds that have healed. I have learned to love even the worst parts of me, to dance with my skeletons, even in the rain. If I trust you enough to share them, will you love me even more, for having endured it?

Dear Future Lover,

I’m not always easy to love. I’m going to test you. You might have to prove yourself in areas where others have failed me. It might be hard and we might have to work at it. The payoff is that I’ll love you in a way you’ve never known. If we don’t last, I’ll become the standard by which you measure every other woman and your life will never be the same.

Abundance

The heart that gives, gathers.

My minister mentioned abundance in last week’s homily. It got me thinking. A disappointing web search resulted in mostly financially driven references. No inspiration there. While I do believe that abundance often leads to monetary gain, it wasn’t my first thought.

I’ve always liked the phrase “with an abundance of caution,” sometimes used for legal purposes. Farmers often pray for an abundant crop. We all know that abundance means a big quantity of something. I think abundance is personally manifested. The things in which I seek abundance might be very different than yours. And people who manifest abundance in one area of their lives, usually do the same in most – or all – areas.

Size matters.

It’s about the volume of life that you can inhale into your lungs to be absorbed into your blood and circulated throughout your being. It’s the depth of the love you feel. It’s your capacity to truly and deeply engage with others and the power to expand their knowledge or enhance their experiences.

How much is enough? The idea is to live with so much abundance every day that it naturally overflows into the other parts of your life.

The things we give are returned to us.

Do good and good follows you. Keep your heart open to receive whatever blessings the universe sends your way. Whatever you practice, comes back to you: Love, faith, positivity. Having strength for a friend makes you strong. See the beauty around you and people will see the beauty in you. Give your time freely to those who need it and your time will be enriched with blessings.

How do you start?

Begin by saying yes. Opportunities for abundance constantly present themselves. A child needs your attention. A colleague needs help with something. Your partner is struggling with an issue. A local school team is asking for donations. Don’t hesitate – Delve right in with an open heart and a smile. Give the gift of abundance. You’ll be amazed. I promise.

Live in abundance and you will have abundance, always.

Rearview mirror

Someone I’d just met was talking about his divorce. Although it had been more than a year, it was obvious that he remained bitter. I tried my best to be patient and listen while he vented. Then he said something that struck a nerve. It was a generalization and rooted in his inability to come to terms with his own personal experience, but that didn’t matter, in the moment. I felt the need to set him straight. If nothing else, he should have been more sensitive to his audience.

The offensive statement was this: “Men always get screwed in divorce. Women make out like bandits.”

Yeah, he actually said that. Out loud. To me.

Before my divorce, I was retired. I owned my own home (and had for 27 years). I drove a brand new, fully loaded SUV. I vacationed often, and ‘roughing it’ meant a camper with heated mattresses and a full kitchen. My now ex husband, by contrast, was still working. He lived in my house and he did drive a nice truck. We shared the camper.

Fast forward nearly two years. I sold my house and am now renting. I have a full time job. I drive an eight-year old car with crank windows. I sleep in a tent on vacation. Him? He retired, bought a house, a brand new truck and a fifth wheel camper.

The disparity couldn’t be more stark. I share this not to garner sympathy because, frankly, I have an amazing life and abhor pity. My point is that one should consider his audience before spewing harsh statements that reflect only his own narrow viewpoint. Perhaps if he looked outside himself, his situation would not appear to be so miserable. You never have to go very far to find someone who is either better off or far worse off than you are. Comparisons do not always serve us well.

Perspective is a lovely gift. It may not negate your own loss, but it certainly shines a light on the shadows of it. I have friends who are fighting terminal illnesses or have children who are. I have friends who have suddenly and tragically lost a loving spouse. My change in lifestyle pales in comparison.

Instead of measuring material things, maybe we should look more closely at the things we cannot always see or touch. I’m pretty sure that I’d win in the happiness category. I don’t mean smiling and having a good time (although I have that, too). What I’m talking about is the satisfaction of living a deliberate life, despite what gets thrown at you. It’s a deeper, more meaningful sense of contentment that flies in the face of physical ‘stuff’ and outward appearances.

Truth be told, I have way more than I need. I couldn’t be happier tooling around town in my little five-speed, doing a job I love. And have you ever heard the sound of rain on a tent while you’re cozy inside, with only the soft glow of a lantern? It’s heavenly.

Not being bogged down with things and the associated responsibilities and obligations that they bring is liberating. There’s time for creative pursuits and learning to indulge in your own peaceful solitude. There is a clarity that shines that light on what’s important.

What I really wanted to say to my new friend was this: Let go of the anger. Have no regrets. Tear off that rear view mirror and live your life in a forward motion. If you want to vent your victimhood with no regard for your audience, get a therapist. Oh, and one more thing…. Good riddance!

‘Work’ is a four letter word

I’ve always heard that relationships require a lot of work. It’s an unfamiliar notion, to me; a foreign concept. My relationships have been pretty easy and mostly smooth sailing. Until they weren’t. Then, they were over.

Some were dead in the water even before they started. I never believed the ‘work’ part belonged at the beginning, when it should be all fun and excitement. The hard part should come later – much later. Right?

The relationships that did survive past the hearts and flowers stage eventually died from neglect. They simply veered off course until they were in the reeds with no hope of rescue: Beyond repair, because nobody did the work.

When I stop and think – really think – about two individual people, each with his or her own tastes, habits, opinions, beliefs, quirks, dreams, triggers, secrets and histories, trying to blend it all together and share some kind of mutually satisfying life….. it boggles the mind. It seems beyond humanly possible. It’s a set-up, at the very least. You’d have to be a complete fool to even try!

And yet, we do. We keep trying until we get it right. Some are lucky enough to find it on the first attempt. Some never do. Some give up. Others settle for something somewhere in between.

I know it’s possible because I’ve witnessed it, first hand. I know that you never know everything that goes on in someone else’s relationship. There were times when I didn’t know what was happening in my own. Still, I’ve seen the real thing. My parents had it. Many of my friends have it. And, they’ll all tell you that it’s a lot of work.

I have a lot of difficulty picturing myself in their place. While I am committed to not becoming cynical, I pride myself in being a realist. The facts, as they say, are stacked against me. It’s not that I lay awake at night analyzing. Quite the contrary: I exude self-confidence and truly like who I am. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. Alone, I am complete. No missing pieces. There are no obvious needs for another person to fill. A very kind male friend recently described me as “the whole package.” Another told me that I am intimidating.

What would make life more satisfying would be someone else who is complete. We could still be total, intact individuals, but with some overlapping places. Maybe that’s where the work comes into play – Drawing the boundaries around those shared parts of our lives and then nurturing them. Keeping the common areas safe – and healthy.

Tina Turner’s voice enters my mind. “What’s love got to do with it?” Does love come first and move you to negotiate the mutual landscape? Or, do you find someone with whom you can dovetail and hope love develops?

It sounds complicated. And messy. It sounds like a lot of work. Am I up for the challenge? I’m pretty happy with my life as it stands. I worry that I won’t bend when needed. Only time will tell. But I can say this much: I didn’t come all this way to settle.

Birth (of a book)

Becoming an author is a lot like becoming a parent. Conception might look a little different, but there are still parallels. You have the idea of a book, much like you have the idea of a child. If it’s your first, there are many unknowns for which your imagination fills in the blanks. Maybe you read up on the subject or talk to others who have had the experience. You start to associate with people who are in similar circumstances. Some of them have already done this once, or multiple times. They confidently offer advice that largely falls on deaf ears, because you cannot really imagine what it’s like.

The actual writing of the story is like pregnancy, only, in most cases, it takes a lot longer. It’s an emotional journey and this takes you by surprise. There is anticipation, excitement, fear, doubt and mood swings. There is even back pain and swollen ankles, if only for spending too many hours hunched over the laptop.

Finally, the manuscript is done. Or, you’ve reached the 40 week mark. Either way, the work is finished and you become impatient, wanting it to be over. But, in reality, it has only just begun. They don’t call it labor for nothing! All of that editing and rewriting! It’s so painful! Even if you have a good coach, they start to make you irritable, toward the end. There comes a moment when you give up and just want to say, “never mind.”

But there’s no turning back. The last minute details have been completed and everything is ready. You’ve chosen the perfect name and it’s finally going to happen! A few last pushes and there it is. At long last, you are holding your book in your hands, gazing down at it with a sense of wonder and joy. You are overwhelmed by your sense of accomplishment.

Friends and family call and gather to admire your work. They congratulate you. There might be flowers or champagne. Your heart swells with a pride you’ve never known and you are walking on air.

Before long, people start to ask you when they can expect “the next one….”