Empathy Has No Script

I think if we are absolutely honest, most of us would admit we have few relationships that operate without some kind of script.

We are friends with someone because we like the same hobbies or spend time together at a job or ball park or church.  

We fall in love with someone because they “complete” us and offer companionship, emotional support and stability. 

When the script fails (for whatever reason) we tend to pull away from those  relationships.

But if I choose to enter into the suffering of another, I must do so without a script and commit to the long haul.

I must follow his or her lead, allow him or her to guide my response and refuse to impose my preferences on that hurting heart.  

I’m there to hold a hand and help a heart hold onto hope.  

empathy has no script brene brown

Why Some Friends Abandon Grievers

Often a new year means taking stock of the previous twelve months and making adjustments for the next twelve. 

When I comb back through my memories I try to notice where I struggled and where I soared.  I want to learn from the things that worked and the things that didn’t.  And I almost always find relationships top the list of where I need to make changes.

Grief is tough on friendships.  

Not everyone can or will stick around while broken hearts work hard to put the pieces back together.

I miss some of the people I thought would still be here and, if I allow myself to do it, can invest too much of the precious and limited emotional energy I have left this side of child loss in being angry, bitter or just plain disappointed.

But that is unhelpful. 

So instead I began to think about WHY some friends abandon grievers.  

Here’s what I think:  Why Friends Abandon Grievers

Emotional Overload and T.M.I.

There are so many ways child loss impacts relationships!

Some of the people you think will stand beside you for the long haul either never show up or disappear right after the funeral.

Some people you never expected to hang around not only come running but choose to stay.

And every. single. relationship. gets more complicated.  

When your heart is shattered, there are lots of sharp edges that end up cutting you and everyone around you.  It’s pretty much inevitable that one or more relationships will need mending at some point.

I know I said (still say!) things that wound others.  Most of the time it’s because I’m distracted or hurting myself and my mouth begins speaking before my brain is fully engaged.  Sometimes, though, it’s because I’m in pain and (frankly!) I want to transfer some of that pain to someone else.

Misery DOES love company!

Often other people in my life will say or do things that wound me.  Some of the folks are part of my inner grief circle and I know that it’s unintentional or they are having a pain-filled day like I am.

A few are extended family members who are either blissfully unaware of the ongoing pain and drama of child loss or are too caught up in their own lives to give it a thought.

Some of them are friends who think by now I should have toughened up and are no longer willing to extend extra grace and try harder to be tender.

Sometimes it’s acquaintances or strangers who don’t have a clue.

Whenever someone pierces my armor and inflicts pain, I have a choice:  Do I suck it up and take it or do I say something and try to reconcile?

There are days when I feel strong enough to just overlook it.  But I know if it represents a pattern, sooner or later the pressure will build and I’m going to blow.  And that’s not good for either one of us.

couple fighting

There are days when I absolutely, positively have to address it.  That’s when I need to be careful of overloading another heart with too much information (TMI).  See, it’s easy to make one person the target for all my strong feelings.  It’s easy to do an emotional and informational “dump” on whoever happens to be handy or whoever is the least intimidating.

That’s unfair and unhelpful-for them and for me.  

So when I decide to open my mouth and address a specific situation with a specific person, I need to keep my margins clean and only say the things that pertain to THAT instance.  I can’t bring up every single thing the person has done in the past or things that they haven’t said or done but which have made me more sensitive to certain words or actions.  I don’t need to burden them with all the details of MY bad day or week or month.

Instead I should talk about my own feelings in relationship to them and their actions or words. 

“I feel like _________when you say________” gives vent to my emotion without accusing another heart.  I need to leave room for them to share what they were/are thinking and feeling too.  It can’t be one-way conversation if I hope to have a two-way relationship.  

i statments graphic

Any stressful life circumstance makes us all more vulnerable to offense.  And child loss is certainly stressful.  It’s stressful in ways others can’t see or comprehend.  It alters the way a parent sees and experiences the world.

It makes everything harder.  

Relationships included.  

I want to be full of love, grace and mercy, not overrun with bitterness, anger and offense. 

So I have to be mindful of what I say, how much I say and when I choose to say it.

young man thought bubble

“Special Handling Required”

This time of year all the package handlers are busy dropping off the bounty of online shoppers’ purchases to millions of doorsteps around the world.  

It’s a wonder that most of it arrives on time and in good condition.  

amazon boxes at door

I suspect though, that you, like me, have gotten one or two boxes over the years that arrived dinged and damaged, battered and broken.

While it can be a real hassle to get the product replaced, it’s usually only a matter of time before a brand new “whatever” arrives.  

People aren’t so easily mended, though.  

And I think we forget that.  

People are more fragile than they appear. Words are more piercing than we realize. We should add in an extra notch of kindness and gentleness whenever we can.

~Gavin Ortlund

I have friends that take more care with their smartphone than with their spouse or children or parents.

Things can be replaced.  People can’t.

Mass produced consumer goods-no matter how expensive or treasured-are worthless compared to a heart.

In an age where clicks and phone calls make it possible to fix so many things, they are rarely helpful in fixing relationships.

“Special Handling Required!” should be plastered across every human’s forehead.  

People are irreplaceable, fragile, beautiful gifts.  

More valuable than anything we could ever buy.  ❤

words and hearts should be handled with care

 

 

 

 

Speaking Truth

In the South, we tend to pussyfoot around hard truths because most of us grew up with the admonition, “Now just be nice!”

And while that makes for charming dinner table conversation, it makes for lousy long-term relationships.

Because we all know the longer you live with, work with and love another body, the more things that should be said but aren’t add up.

Pretty soon the pile is so big it obscures the love or fun or shared interests that should be holding hearts together and instead they drift apart.

I haven’t been all that good at following the southern tradition of code words and cute phrases that mask true intent. But I used to be guilty of it from time to time.

These past years of heartache and hardship have pretty much stripped all the veneer that was left off my tongue.

I doubt you will find a soul that would call me a silver-tongued devil.  They’re more likely to call me a brash something else.

But I have important things to say and I don’t want to waste time sugar-coating them.  I don’t want the meat of my message hidden inside a puff pastry of silly words.  I believe truth should be easy to swallow but not necessarily tasty.

Often the most efficacious medicine leaves a nasty aftertaste.

So I’m here to tell you:  don’t drown your important relationships in unsaid words, unshared feelings, unacknowledged wounds.  

All that does is guarantee distance grows between your hearts.  

If you let the distance become too vast, or the pile of unsaid truth get too high, you might just find you can’t reach that far or that high to reconnect.

It takes a bit of brave to say what’s important and uncomfortable. 

But it’s worth it.  

And it’s really the only way to authentic and lasting relationships.  

business-authenticity

No More “Quiet Mouse” For Me

Believe me, I’ve imposed my share of“Quiet Mouse” on my own kids through the years.

Raising four close-in-age siblings, sometimes that was the only way to make the last five miles home without losing my mind.

But the premise of the game is really this:  I’m bigger, I’m stronger, I’m in control and you are not-so shut up.

Even if you have something important to say.  

Even if you feel like you will burst wide open if you have to hold it in.

No excuses allowed.  Just. Be. Quiet.

quiet_as_a_mouse (2)
Peace at all costs.

I’ve been a quiet mouse for most of my life when it comes to standing up for myself.

Now, advocating for my children or for someone unable to fend for themselves-that’s another story.  But somewhere in my formative years I embraced the message that the most important thing in the world was to keep the peace.

Even if you have something important to say.

Even if you feel like you will burst wide open if you have to hold it in.

No excuses allowed.  Just. Be. Quiet.

But all this emotional turmoil I’ve been feeling since Dominic left us has uncovered layer after layer of brokenness, pain and untold stories.  His death lifted the lid on the vault that had been sealed for decades.

Emotions are flying out like genies.

genie-lamp

And I’ve come to understand that peace at all costs-when the costs are borne by a single individual in a relationship-is not peace. 

It’s slavery.

I also realize that not every friendship and family tie is a mission field on which I must spill my life’s blood to prove my love for Jesus.

Sometimes laying down simply enables bad behavior and encourages bullying and disrespect.  

angry-man-pointing-finger

I want to walk in love.  Always. 

But love does not mean I must allow other people to walk all over me.  

I don’t plan to. 

No more “Quiet Mouse” for me.

not-required-set-yourself-on-fire-life-daily-quotes-sayings-pictures

Made for Relationship

I’ve always taught even very young children straight from Scripture because I believe there is no better way to introduce them to Jesus and God than by the words the Spirit breathed into the world through the pens of chosen men.

In preparation for sharing with the children of our community this week at VBS, I’ve been studying the Bible verses chosen for each day.

When I study, I look up parallel verses and use several Bible translations and some paraphrases to try to get a better grasp of everything God may be saying.  I don’t use commentaries because I find them distracting and because I am convinced that the Holy Spirit can lead me into all truth.

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

John 14: 26 KJV

Since I’ll be busy these next five days, I thought I’d share my study notes with you.

the relationship begins

The first day’s theme is “The Relationship Begins”:  

Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He existed before creation began, for it was through him that every thing was made, whether spiritual or material, seen or unseen. Through him, and for him, also, were created power and dominion, ownership and authority. In fact, every single thing was created through, and for him. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation. And now he is the head of the body which is composed of all Christian people. Life from nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of all. It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile in his own person, as it were, everything on earth and everything in Heaven by virtue of the sacrifice of the cross.

Colossians 1:15-20 PHILLIPS

Jesus is God made visible!  Selah

(Pause and think about that!)

The eternal, omnipotent God of the universe chose to clothe Himself with flesh and enter His creation as a creature.   He subjected Himself to the same forces of nature I’m subject to.  He walked like I walk, talked like I talk, was hungry, thirsty, happy, sad-just like me.

But He is also utterly unlike me.

He was before ALL things.

He MADE all things.

His power keeps all things TOGETHER.

He made me and as my Creator, He has the absolute authority to direct my path.

“Life from nothing began through Him, and life from the dead began through Him”-He is the Author of physical life and the Author of eternal life.

There is no life apart from Him.

Whether or not I acknowledge this truth doesn’t change that it IS truth.

Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”

John 14:6-7 MSG

Christ’s sacrifice and His blood make it possible for me to dwell with God eternally.  He is the propitiation for sin, the payment in full for the penalty I deserve.

For that reason He is justly called, “Lord of all”.

God’s Son shines out with God’s glory, and all that God’s Son is and does marks him as God. He regulates the universe by the mighty power of his command. He is the one who died to cleanse us and clear our record of all sin, and then sat down in highest honor beside the great God of heaven.

Hebrews 1:3 TLB

 

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