When I Felt Like I Was Too Different

way of gratitude (2)The Way of Gratitude: Day 7 (originally posted here)

Looking back on this post, I can still feel my frustration My sense of uncertainty about who I am, what I do, how I do it…

When I wrote months ago about being a Highly Sensitive Person, I may have mentioned how sometimes I feel very different than others I interact with. Ok, I don’t remember if I did say that, but I don’t have time to look back now. The truth is, I often do feel as though I approach life from a different perspective. I see this with family, friends, coworkers, and strangers. I talk about things differently (more feelings and less weather). I see big pictures instead of little details. And I often feel… different.

Today, I was frustrated with seeing things different than someone else and I began wondering if I was wrong. Sometimes when this happens, I start to wonder if I’m a little crazy. Why don’t they see what’s clear to me? Am I living in a different reality? (I might ask)

I was kind of worked up about this particular conflict of ideas when I called a friend who has the same temperament as I do. There I found someone who understood me. Someone who made me feel a little less crazy and “out there.” And she gave me ideas on what to do about this conflict going forward, because she too can see the big picture from an abstract point of view. We have Like Minds and I am so very grateful for her friendship.

 

Wow. Vague. I know. But have you ever been so flustered, overwhelmed, and lonely that you have been unable to express yourself? Have you ever felt like there is no answer, solution, or possible outcome? That’s how I felt. Like I was pinballing off of everyone else, not able to land. And then I had my friend. My safety. God has continued to provide places of safety. Like Minds. And I continue to be astounded by His faithfulness in affirming that He made me to be me

The road to self-acceptance has been long. Winding. With detours, black ice, and sink holes. But as God continues to provide people who affirm me, I am beginning to be able to affirm myself and pray David’s pray of Thanksgiving: 

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.

Psalm 139:13-14

day 7

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Why Sympathy Spurs Shame, but Empathy Empowers

Day 28 of 31 Days of Connecting

When Jack was 3 or 4 months old, we went to a family friend’s house for lunch. Not knowing them well, I mostly kept to myself, hiding myself in Jack’s needs. When he finally went down for a nap, I had no choice but to engage in conversation with these strangers (commence awkward introvert small talk). After a little while, the mother asked me how things were going as a new mom. She asked, “Have you been brought to tears?”

Relief filled my heart that perhaps someone might understand what it was like to have a son who had colic, who knew that emotional fatigue overwhelmes a new mama, and that sometimes the only thing to do was to let out a sob or two, so I responded emphatically, “Oh Yes! Just last week, I burst into tears when I was nursing Jack.”

“Really?”

Her surprised and inquisitive look let me know I had it all wrong. I could sense pity coming from her gaze, but I didn’t want pity, I wanted understanding. I wanted to know things could be ok. That all moms shed these tears. Yet in that moment I only received: “Really?”

Ashamed, I looked at my feet, mumbled something about, “Don’t all moms?” and quickly changed the topic or perhaps even left the room.

Writer, speaker, and shame researcher Brené Brown has helped me understand that in that moment what I wanted empathy, but what I received was sympathy. Brown wrote this:

“[Sympathy says], ‘I’m over here and you’re over there. I’m sorry for you. I’m sad for you. AND, while I’m sorry that happened to you, let’s be clear: I’m over here.’ This is not compassion.

“In most cases, when we give sympathy we do not reach across to understand the world as others see it. We look at others from our world and feel sorry or sad for them… When our need for empathy is met with sympathy, it can often send us deeper into shame – we feel even more alone and separated. Empathy is about connection; sympathy is about separation.” (I thought it was just me (but it isn’t), 2007, p 51)

day 28

Whenever I meet a new mom, I find myself longing for her to feel safe with me, to know that though I haven’t been in her exact situation, I get it. Sometimes we are brought to tears. Sometimes those tears don’t stop. Sometimes we want to walk away for awhile. She needs to know that she is not alone, but that someone, somewhere is sitting with her. Loving her. Shedding tears with her.

Then, through that empathy, maybe that mama can be encouraged, empowered to continue on.

<<To hear Brown speak on this topic, and to see some great animation, click here.>>

What our friends need most from us…

Day 27 of 31 Days of Connecting

I fully intend to listen well. To be a good friend as my friends have been to me. To support them as they have supported me. And yet, I find myself doing it again. Focusing on me.

While she shares her struggles feeding her baby boy, I’m trying to think of ways to fix him as I “fixed” my sons (sort of ignoring the reality that her struggles with reflux, allergies, and other traumas are nothing like mine).

While she shares her problems with her marriages, I find myself comparing her relationship with her husband to my relationship with mine. And instead of listening, or letting her know I was listening, I am now rattling off my own story.

Or, while she is sharing a triumph, a milestone with her kid, I find myself feeling defensive and as if I am failing in some way because my sons didn’t walk until they were 19 months old, didn’t talk until they were 2 years old and are generally clumsy with the gross motor skills.

And the worst yet, is that while she is crying over her struggles, her pain, her need, I find myself uncomfortable with her circumstances and instead of sitting down and mourning with her, I am emotionally distant, offering my well-meaning-yet-missing-the-point-entirely advice, followed by an emotionally empty truism.

The unfortunate thing is that we think that when we’re doing these things we are empathizing. Unfortunately, the reality is, we are not focused on the other person or caring for their needs at all, but are thinking of our own. We are uncomfortable in their pain and while we think we are trying to make them feel better, we are actually trying to make ourselves feel better.

What our friends need from us is not to hear how our circumstances were worse or better. They often don’t even want advice – (a safe rule is don’t give it unless asked). What our friends need most is for us to get down with them, offer a shoulder to cry on, and to be with them.

What our friends need most from us is us.

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And that is what makes all of the difference. When we do this for one another, suddenly we are not so alone. Suddenly, our circumstances seem manageable. Suddenly, we are validated in our needs, our feelings, our very selves.

The next time I am with a friend, I will try again. I will shut my mouth and let her talk. I will put myself in her shoes and allow myself to feel her pain. I won’t try to make myself feel better by trying to fix her situation, or minimizing it, or allowing myself to feel like a failure. I will just be with her.

As she has been there for me.

Day 27

 

31 days of connecting

Why I am Grateful for My Friends

Day 22 of 31 Days of Connecting 

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25

Day 22

I hold on tight to my friendships. It’s because I don’t have many of them. And that’s not because people don’t like me (as I once believed), but because I thrive with a few close friends.

My closest, dearest friends are those who encourage me towards love. The ones who teach me how to love, who love me, and reveal to me that I am lovable. They let me know when I am seeing myself poorly. They let me know when I am being overly harsh with a leader, my husband, or my kids. They listen.

I learn to love from them because they love well.

They don’t assume my circumstances are the same as theirs, but let me talk.

They let me feel my feelings, validating each and every one. But they point out the error in my beliefs when they are present. Because though my feelings are valid, the beliefs driving them often could stand for correction.

My friends don’t assume that their way is my way. They don’t tell me how to parent my kids, but encourage me as I figure out how it will work best for me on my own. They know I am not the same as them. They know my kids are not the same as theirs.

My friends have hurt my feelings. My true friends have let me tell them that and have apologized. And I am safe with them to confess my faults in the same way.

My friends let me cry. They don’t try to make me stop. They don’t tell me everything is okay when it isn’t. They let me feel. They pray for me. They stand by me.

My friends see me not for who I am, but for who God created me to be. They don’t give up on me, but allow me to stumble blindly as I reach out for the hope that was promised in Christ.

Yes, my friends love well.

To those who have been this for me, thank you for being my friend.

And though we may not live in the same city, state or even country, I hope to never stop meeting with you.

I Will Not Tell A Lie

Day 13 of 31 Days of Connecting

31 days big

Today I had a choice:

Be honest. Be truthful. Or hide.

Say what was hurting me. Or put on a mask.

Encourage my kids to speak out. Or tell them to be silent.

Over and over again this past week I have been encouraged by those who have told me I have been brave for speaking the truth about the loss, the pain, the struggle that I have encountered in this life.

And over and over again I have read stories other women have written about their own heartache. About their addictions. Their infidelity. Their loss.

It is their honesty that keeps me going.

When I read my friend’s blog – and her commitment to be authentic for 31 days – that’s when I knew I needed to speak the truth.

We live in a culture that encourages falsehood and masks. From internet trolls who will smash the most vulnerable to photoshop that “corrects” a beautiful body, we are told we are not enough – that the truth isn’t good. And even church culture can tie the mask on tight. We encourage one another to “trust in God” when we don’t even know where He is in our own lives. We smile and say “praise Him” when inside we are weeping.

We encourage one another that we can tell the truth, but inside we’re afraid that if we speak up we will lose… again.

What would it look like if instead of giving a quick platitude we told our crying friends we don’t have the answers either? What would it look like if we just held them instead of trying to make them (or us) feel better? What would it look like if we learned to embrace the discomfort of honest emotion?

I am convinced the loneliness that surrounds us exists because we have not yet discovered the ability to be truthful. And it’s understandable after being rejected. Or rebuked. Or abused.

But we have to keep trying.

We need each other.

We need to be heard.

And we need to hear that others have experienced the same things, too.

day 13Is there someone you have that you can speak the truth to? Who is it? If not… who would you like it to be? Start looking and praying… I didn’t always have that someone either. And until then, be that person for someone else.

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. (Ephesians 4:25 The Message)

Gratefulness; Day 7 – Like Minds

When I wrote months ago about being a Highly Sensitive Person, I may have mentioned how sometimes I feel very different than others I interact with. Ok, I don’t remember if I did say that, but I don’t have time to look back now. The truth is, I often do feel as though I approach life from a different perspective. I see this with family, friends, coworkers, and strangers. I talk about things differently (more abstract ideas and less about the weather). I see big pictures instead of little details. And I often feel… different.

Today, I was frustrated with seeing things different than someone else and I began wondering if I was wrong. Sometimes when this happens, I start to wonder if I’m a little crazy. Why don’t they see what’s clear to me? Am I living in a different reality? (I might ask)

I was kind of worked up about this particular conflict of ideas when I called a friend who has the same temperament as I do. There I found someone who understood me. Someone who made me feel a little less crazy and “out there.” And she gave me ideas on what to do about this conflict going forward, because she too can see the big picture from an abstract point of view. We have Like Minds and I am so very grateful for her friendship.

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On another note, Ben seems to love reading as much as I do.
“Great minds think alike!”

Loneliness

Today, I’m feeling lonely.

It’s not a loneliness caused by being alone, no, most often I’m surrounded by people and crave a moment to myself. Like, a moment to go to the bathroom alone without someone walking in or screaming at me from the other room. Or some time alone to  remember, “what was I about to do?”

No, today I am lonely and longing for deep friendship, good conversation, shared experiences, laughter, and perhaps a tear or two. Without children around is, of course, ideal.

Loneliness is something I have experienced most of my adult life. Over the past ten years, I have had wonderful friendships with mature, godly women, who have encouraged and loved me well. Yet, so often, things changed. Almost every one of them has moved away or had to limit their time. If they didn’t, then we did. Moved on with new jobs, new children, new neighborhoods… new friends.

I mourn.

It feels like I’m in something of a drought. I miss the women dearest to me, my mom, my sisters, my friends… I wonder if I will ever be close to them again. Will we move back to Minnesota to be near family, those natural relationships and people whom I love? I don’t know.

I ache.

 

I wrestle with feeling like, I should just be content with God’s love. God loves me, what more do I need?! He’s always here, right?

Well, yes, but I know that we were created for one another. God saw Adam, who was the only human being alive and said,  “It’s not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and He created Eve. Not just to be a spouse, but for companionship, for help, for fellowship.

God made us to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6). We are to love and honor one another (Romans 12:10). Accept one another (Romans 15:7). Encourage one another (2 Corinthians 13:11). Pray for one another (Ephesians 5:18). Confess to one another (James 5:16) and forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32). We are to bring each other closer to God in our friendship (Ephesians 5:18-19).

You know, I have many acquaintances and friends who I see regularly. We talk, we laugh, but rarely do we do those things above. I want a friend like that so much. I am lonely for her.  I am praying for her. And I am trying to be her.

You know, at this moment, I am comforted, because if those things are so desirable in Scripture, then God wants me to have a friend like that, too. And, yeah, I believe He will answer my prayer. That though I’ve had to say goodbye to another friend, I will meet someone wonderful. And, in the meantime, I am comforted knowing that Jesus is closer to me than a sister.  He’s closer to me than I am to myself. He knows me. He loves me. He listens. He died for me. And He provides for my needs. Before these words hit the page, he knew them completely. He keeps me secure. Such knowledge is too wonderful to me, I cannot contain it.

Yes, I am comforted.

Thank you, Lord. May others experience your comfort and friendship. Thank you for listening. Please bring me my friend. Amen.