“Get Out of Christmas Free” Card

I remember playing Monopoly as a kid and how much I treasured that “Get Out of Jail Free” card when I was lucky enough to draw it from the pile.

Because it meant that even if I landed in jail, I didn’t have to stay there. 

As I walk this Valley of the Shadow of Death, I often wish there were cards like that for all sorts of seasons, places and situations.  I can’t help them coming around, but I would love to be able to skip right over and move to the next thing.

Christmas feels like that this year. 

Christmas is hard for all kinds of hearts for all kind of reasons.  And unlike most other holidays that are only a DAY, the Christmas season drags on for weeks which makes it even harder.

Now, you know I’ve posted here about why I still put up a Christmas tree-because the lights remind me there is a limit to the darkness.

But, that said, I want to offer a “Get Out of Christmas Free” card to other hurting hearts who just can’t manage even a lighted tree this time of year.

Shake off the guilt.  Wash off the worry.  Step free of others’ expectations.

There is no biblical imperative to celebrate the birth of Christ.  None.

And there is certainly no biblical imperative to dress up the celebration with all the cultural trappings we’ve added over centuries.

Furthermore, if you get right down to it, there is strong evidence that Jesus wasn’t born anywhere near December 25th.

So if your heart cannot bear the thought of one more holly, jolly song, one more hap-hap-happy get together, one more frenzied rush to the store for a forgotten present or pantry item-just choose to sit this one out.

It is possible to go through the month of December without caving in to consumerism or being guilted into celebrating when your heart’s not in it.

Close the blinds.  Let the telephone go to voicemail.  Fast from social media and turn off the TV.  

The days will pass with or without your permission and January promises a fresh start. 

It’s OK.  I promise.

its ok to not feel like celebrating christmas

 

Boundaries: I’m Not a Punching Bag

Last week I wrote a post titled They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know and made the case that often folks say insensitive things but truly don’t mean harm.  Many are walking in the dark and step on our toes because they can’t see.

But there are some people who make it a habit to be insensitive.

They are the ones who delight in speaking their mind regardless of how it hurts another heart.  They pride themselves on “telling it like it is” and justify the fallout as a necessary consequence of “opening the eyes” of people they consider “blind to the truth”.

And while I believe that it is my duty as a Christ follower to forgive these folks when they hurt my feelings, I do not believe that I am required to continue to offer my heart to them to be tossed to the ground and trampled.

boundary yellow line

I do not have to welcome them with open arms and invite their untimely and unkind comments.  

I do not have to engage with them on social media-I can unfollow, unfriend or simply ignore their posts.  I can delete inappropriate comments made on my own posts and untag myself when they try to draw my attention to an article or meme that they think “helps” when it only wounds me.

If the person is a family member, I can choose to be polite when we meet at gatherings but I do not have to sit next to them at the table.  I can excuse myself early from birthday parties, Sunday dinners or holiday meals.  I can simply refuse an invitation and stay home instead.

If the person is someone tightly woven into the fabric of my friendships, I can do the same thing-choosing not to be alone with them so I’m not an easy target for their “helpful” monologues.

If the person is a casual acquaintance then I can choose not to engage them at all. It’s OK to scoot around the next aisle in the grocery store so that I’m not caught like a deer in headlights when they see me and exclaim, “How ARE you???”

In other words, it is perfectly acceptable to have boundaries around my heart so I can survive this journey.

It is healthy.

It is necessary.

I’m not required to be someone else’s punching bag.

punching bag

Repost: No. It’s a Complete Sentence

When news that Dominic left us spread, our yard was filled with friends and family here to help bear the burden of grief and loss.

Our house was bursting with people and food and phone calls-more coming and going than our gravel lane had seen in a lifetime of living up in the woods.

It was beautiful and terrible all at the same time.

Read the rest here:  No. It’s a Complete Sentence.

Emotional Bankruptcy: I Can’t Spend the Same Energy Twice

I wasn’t born with an “I don’t give a hoot” gene.

When I commit to a person, a project or a problem, I’m all in-no holding back.

That’s why this side of Dominic’s leaving I’ve been very cautious about making commitments. But in the past year I’ve begun branching out and joining in again.

In many ways it has been a positive experience.

In other ways, not so much.

Last evening was one of those times.

Some critical tasks are undone for a large project where deadlines are fast approaching. They are not my assigned tasks although I could perform them if I had the time and/or energy.

But I just don’t have either one.

So there is friction and panic and rush in the group that didn’t need to be there.  I won’t withdraw-I’m committed to fulfill my responsibilities but now I am burdened with all this negative emotional energy.

It followed me home and try as I might I was unable to regather my peace of mind.

I had spent all the emotional reserve I had for yesterday on keeping my responses controlled and relatively kind when people were trying to foist extra responsibilities on me as we walked out the door.

By the time I went to bed I was emotionally bankrupt.

The little bit of extra I depend on each night to keep my mind and heart focused on positive things as I drift off to sleep was spent.

I had nothing left.

I got to the edge of sleep over and over and the thought, “Dominic is dead.” flashed like lightning through my mind.  The thought brought horrible feelings with it.  I couldn’t escape no matter how hard I tried.

Eventually, exhausted, I fell asleep.  It was an awful sleep.  I woke up many times to the same thought all night long.  I will suffer for it today-sluggish and unable to concentrate.

THIS is why I can’t afford to get involved like I used to before Dominic ran ahead to heaven-not because I don’t care or I don’t want to-but because I CAN’T.

I cannot spend the same emotional energy twice.

I’ve only got so much to give.

daring to set boundaries brene brown

 

 

Healthy Boundaries in Grief

As a people-pleasing first born who hates conflict, giving in has always been  easy for me. It’s only later that I wish I hadn’t.  

So for most of my life, setting personal boundaries has been challenging.

But in the aftermath of child loss, healthy boundaries are no longer optional, they are necessary for survival.  

So what are healthy boundaries?

  • Saying “no” without guilt
  • Asking for what you want or need
  • Taking care of yourself
  • Saying “yes” because you want to, not out of obligation or to please others
  • Behaving according to your own values and beliefs
  • Feeling safe to express difficult emotions and to have disagreements
  • Feeling supported to pursue your  own goals
  • Being treated as an equal
  • Taking responsibilty for your own emotions
  • Not feeling responsible for someone else’s emotions
  • Being in tune with your own feelings
  • Knowing who you are, what you believe, what you like

~sharonmartincounseling.com

What does this look like in real life?

  • Not being “guilted” into engaging in social/family/church activities before I am ready
  • Letting family and friends know when I need encouragement, companionship, solitude, help or space
  • Keeping or making doctor’s appointments and staying on top of my physical well-being by sleeping/eating/taking medication/exercising as best I can
  • Participating in what is helpful and life-giving to me when I want to and not because I feel like I have to.  
  • Giving myself space and time to figure out how losing a child impacts my beliefs, my sense of self, my understanding of the world-being honest about questions and about struggles.  If I have to take a break from church for awhile, that’s OK.
  • Expecting support from friends and family to do the work grief requires.  If some in my circle can’t do this, then I’ll put those relationships on hold until I feel stronger. I am not required to live up to other people’s standards.
  • Embracing and acknowledging my own emotions.  Not expecting someone else to “make me better”.  No one can take away the sorrow and pain of child loss.  It is excruciating.  There is no way through but THROUGH.  Face the feelings.  Get help from a counselor if necessary.  Join a support group.  Find safe friends.  But I will not be able to distract myself or ignore the heartache forever.
  • Understand that though I share the loss with others-a spouse, my surviving children, my child’s grandparents, etc-I am not responsible for how they are dealing with loss. I may offer help, may arrange counseling (especially for children), should strive toward an environment where feelings can be expressed-but I can’t work through their loss experience for them.  
  • Pay attention to my own feelings and what triggers grief attacks.  When I can, plan around the triggers.  When I can’t, accept the feelings and go with them.  If I need to leave a venue, leave.

What it doesn’t look like:  

Healthy personal boundaries are not an excuse for bad behavior.  They are not to be used as blunt instruments to bully others into submission or to advance my own agenda against theirs.

My boundaries don’t give me the right to be hateful, hurtful or unkind.  They are not permission to pitch fits, make public displays or belittle others.  

say-what-we-need-to-say-gently

And they are absolutely NOT a reason to plaster hate speech across social media.  If I have a personal relationship issue then it needs to be handled personally and privately not publicly. Vague Facebook statuses that suggest I’ve been offended by half my friend list are off limits.

Establishing healthy personal boundaries is work.  

Already exhausted from grief, the last thing I want is more work.

But if I don’t defend the space and time I need to do the work grief requires I cannot make progress toward healing.

If I don’t limit my interaction with those who are unhelpful or downright hurtful, I will be dragged down further in the mire of sorrow and sadness.

If I don’t purposely pursue physical, emotional and psychological health, grief will kill me.

No. It’s a Complete Sentence.

When news that Dominic left us spread, our yard was filled with friends and family here to help bear the burden of grief and loss.

Our house was bursting with people and food and phone calls-more coming and going than our gravel lane had seen in a lifetime of living up in the woods.

It was beautiful and terrible all at the same time.  Beautiful because we were not alone in our sorrow and terrible because it was due to that sorrow they were here.

In those days between the accident and the funeral I was boundary-less.

People hugged me, fed me, cleaned my house, cut my grass, tended the animals, asked me questions, told me stories and I just accepted it-whatever “it” was-because I was utterly unable to do anything else.  

But in the weeks that followed, as the pain made itself more at home in my heart-as it expanded to fill every nook and crevice-I realized that I had to put up some fences.

My oldest son was getting married just a couple months after the accident.

There’s a lot of stuff to do for a wedding as most folks know.  So I got a phone call one week after Dominic’s funeral and the person on the other end launched into a long saga regarding a minor detail and expected me to 1) listen attentively; 2) care as deeply as they did about something that absolutely didn’t matter; and 3) join with them in light-hearted, laughter-filled banter.

I just. couldn’t. do. it.  

So I didn’t.  

I politely but firmly explained that I was unable to continue the conversation and that in future they needed to contact me through my son.  I promised I was 100% committed to making the wedding happen, to doing my part and to being as happy as possible on the day.

But until then, unless it was a true emergency, please leave me alone.

Drawing a boundary created space for me to DO what needed to be done without the added burden of extra emotional baggage.

Before Dominic left us I was a “yes” person.

Smiling stylish woman showing sign excellently, isolated on red
Smiling stylish woman showing sign excellently, isolated on red

Need help with an event?  Why, sure I’m available.  

Need someone to take your Sunday School class?  Absolutely.

Keep your toddler? Just drop him off-we’ll play with the critters all day.

 

Phone call counselor and Homeschool Help Hotline-that was me.

Not anymore.  

I’ve learned that if I am to have the energy needed to do necessary things, I have to protect my heart.  I am too weak to carry everyone else’s burdens.  If I am going to survive this journey I’ve got to prioritize.

I still listen.

I still help.  

But I do it in a more healthy way-with respect for myself as well as others.  

It is OK to say, “No.”  And I don’t have to offer a reason.  It’s a complete sentence all on its own.

All of my children had urged me over the years to draw boundaries. But I had grown from a parent-pleasing first born into a people pleasing adult and I just couldn’t do it.

Dominic even crafted a wire sign that hung on my kitchen curtains in the shape of a cursive “no”.

lack-of-planning

 

He made me repeat the mantra: Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.  

 

 

He’d be proud of me for finally taking his advice.