Life of the Party

Each of us comes to an opinion based on our experiences and level of understanding. We all can’t possibly understand – everything. We bring our experiences, education and culture to the table, as an offering, in hopes of understanding. Also seated at the table, are other people, with other experiences, education and cultures.

This table can go from a delightful meal to an all-out, table turned over, brawl in a nanosecond. Why? a lack of experience and understanding.

Come to the table…

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You learn much about other humans when you sit at the table and share a meal. Share a culture. Share experiences. Share understanding, however small that plate may be.

 
When the wine is being poured, someone will delight in their experience of having visited that winery on a weekend with their Love. While a person criticizes for having served the right wine in the wrong glass, a guest is staring into said glass, in an internal battle against addiction, terrified of relapsing against an enemy no one knew about.

The first course, a lovely ceviche, is praised by many; but a lone guest is embarrassed about his shellfish allergy and sits quietly, not knowing that the person seated across from him is also allergic and panic riddled.

When the entrée is served, one party goer goes off on a tangent about how unethical it is to eat meat, while another guest remembers the time they were served this same magical meal at their late grandmother’s home as a child. While yet another guest remembers the time they cleaned the same meal from the floor when their abusive ex toppled it for not being prepared correctly.

The salad course is served with “dressing on the side” experience of childhood sexual assault. While some awkwardly and uncomfortably pick at the lettuces in this course, others will find it all too familiar and haunting. And while some may be leaning in to understanding, someone will grumble because So & So used the wrong fork.

When the coffee is being poured, someone will speak of the amazing coffee they experienced in Peru and their eyes fill with tears at the memory of the poor village children they met while on a mission trip. Another attendee smiles in the knowledge they sponsor a child from a nearby village in Peru. All the while, someone is rubbing a scar from a time when the hot liquid was spilled on them.

The dessert tray is being paraded through the door and attendees gasp at the promise of sweet delicacies and indulgences, even while a guest is planning her ‘purge’ of the entire night’s meal when she returns home.

In a time when all our life is ladled out to social media, we believe our experience is the only course that matters. A level of understanding every person’s backstory is not required. All the shouting and name-calling does little to sway our understanding. If anything, it further divides us.

Come to the table…

  • I don’t care what glass you serve the wine in or if it came from a box. Choose to love the person who served it and offered the comfort of their home.
  • I know I’ve made huge mistakes as a parent. Still, I can choose to travel hundreds of miles to sit with an incarcerated woman and remind her that she’s doing a great job crafting a journal or beading a bracelet for her child.
  • You may not understand the war against the mirror and body acceptance, but you can love the heart of the human you see before you.
  • You don’t have to have firsthand experience with faceless demon of addiction to know that it destroys people and the ripple effects live long after the overdose or even sobriety. Choose to have empathy for those left in its devastation.
  • I can’t possibly understand the plight of someone who has been assaulted by a police officer, but I understand the feeling of betrayal by someone who was meant to protect me.

All that having been said, someone is still incensed that I served the salad course after the entrée. Y’all, love is messy and doesn’t follow a Pinterest chart of proper etiquette*. Just love the party. Love the people hosting and attending. Laugh with them, raise a plastic cup of Dom Perignon or your lead crystal stemware of Pepsi. I’ll likely pick the endive out of the salad because I don’t like it but I’ll still hug the cook.

It’s simple, lean in, learn about each other and love them anyway .

 

[*YES, I checked Pinterest for the fitting dinner party courses, in order. Even Pinterest can’t agree on the proper order!]
 

 

 

 

Boundaries

I stumbled across a quote that reads, “Draw your boundaries in pencil.” I stared at the words on the page and couldn’t move past them. There was something stirring in my guts that I couldn’t quite digest. Those five words stirred a hundred questions…
“Is that so I can change my mind?”
“Is that so someone else can erase the line?”
“Wouldn’t that make everything drab and graphite-grey?”
I was in a tumble of confusion and not sure I would properly consume its meaning

I struggle with boundaries; I’m very aware of this. [[I went as far as to claim “boundaries” as my word for this year.]] I was assaulted more than once in my childhood, my boundaries weren’t honored or validated. My parents were aware of one such assault and their boundaries on the matter were to build a brick house around it. To not discuss, or even acknowledge it. It took many years, and counseling, to understand that my perpetrators had no boundaries of their own. Let alone, honor mine. I coped with some very destructive behaviors and OCD tendencies.  My boundaries through my early years seemed to be drawn out with a line of feathers, scattering to the wind.

I married young, and was a mom even younger. I sought out someone to care about me, to care FOR me. I was certain I could mold myself into whatever shape was necessary to have a happy adulthood. Looking back, I can see that I shed my own boundaries and chased after other people’s boundaries. I was certain that I could make everyone happy if I looked at their lives, their boundaries, and colored them as mine. It’s as if my boundaries were hula-hoops laid on the ground. I could stand in a circle, briefly, and when it no longer worked, I could jump to the next hoop. I chased the circles, striving for acceptance. What I didn’t realize then, there was only room enough for one in the circle. My circle provided protection, isolation, keeping others from discovering my real self and the secrets I carried.

It wasn’t until I was 40-something, that I discovered that I had not established healthy boundaries for myself. I went with the flow and the herd. I evolved faster than Darwin could diagram. I shape shifted to please everyone else and had no idea how to make myself happy. I’m certain that had I set a boundary that I could honor and live with, earlier in my life, I could have saved those around me from a tornado of confusion. The day I stood, knees trembling, unaccompanied in a courtroom, listening to the judge grant the divorce, I knew a new boundary was being birthed. This boundary had been signed by a judge and now on record. This boundary was now a river, me standing on one side, and all that I knew as my adulthood on the other.

I’m learning more and more about boundaries each and every day…
I’m learning that some boundaries are to remain flexible, like a piece of string, so that you can change its shape to allow others in or to ask them to step out.
Some boundaries are to be like a picket fence. A barrier that has a visual boundary for both sides; to look through and see the rest of the world. To occasionally extend your hand through the slats, to shake the hand of a friend. Equally keep an enemy in sight and yourself somewhat protected.

Even as I evaluate my boundaries, I look out my patio door to the chalk drawings, on the concrete, drawn by my 3 year-old grandson. Brightly colored shapes and smiley faces. His innocence and sweetness hold no boundary to his imagination. To be honest, I have no idea what some of his artwork is. But he does. He smiled and laughed and was so delighted in his creation. I’m extra careful when I water the neighboring fairy garden, so that I don’t wash off his joy. I will let the rains have that responsibility. Maybe some boundaries in our life are to be drawn in sidewalk chalk. A new creation. A joy to our own soul. Let no one wash them from our view. And when the rains from above wash away the color, we have the opportunity to create again.

Draw your boundaries in pencil.” I don’t think so.

 

My Life in Shingles

We have been anticipating the work of a new roof for several weeks. Spring rains have been a beast and prevented much work being done outdoors.img_1155-e1496258786125.jpg A couple of pallets of material have been sitting in my driveway awaiting their purpose in the roofing project. Nothing as dramatic as ‘baited breath” but all await the element of newness and covering it will provide. As a ‘renter’ we were not a part of the decision making process. So as these stacks of material sit in my driveway, I have no idea the color or design that hide beneath their wrapping.

The day it finally begins, naturally, is my day off. The workers arrive around 7am (prompt fellas) and I a bit too eagerly go outside to greet them and offer them coffee. [Yeah, well,  I’ve never been a part of this type of project and I just assumed that’s what I’m supposed to do.] They decline and I’m sure there was a bit of eye rolling as I turned on my pale-blue fuzzy slippers and return inside.

Now, my logical brain fully understood what was about to happen. They would be tearing off all of the old shingles, do some repair work and then place new shingles on the roof. Somewhere between logic and reality is where I tend to reside and this bliss (usually) keeps me content. This day, holy guacamole, bliss it is not.

The workers walk the perimeter of the house getting things moved from harm’s way and laying out their tarps. This is when I discover my family room is pretty much a fish bowl, me looking out, them seeing in. I know they are doing their best to not look in and judge my dirty floors or how desperately I need to vacuum. I wait for them to move to another spot, so that I can close the curtains without being rude. The woven curtains are really glorified sheers, and offer a pitiful amount of coverage. But I at least, feel less obvious.

Loud….Sweet Jesus, it is SO loud. I’m not sure how daintily I imagined they’d be removing the old roof, but this sure-as-shit is louder than I figured. I tried to busy myself, wash dishes – “oh hi, dude right outside the window”, I tried to paint my nails –smearing them as I jump at every overly loud sound. I surrender to just well, surrender my day. While I’m wondering how I will survive this day, it dawns on me; the analogy in this process. This process, is the process of my life.

Like life, damage isn’t always visible. I didn’t seem to notice there was roof damage, inspectors surveyed the roof up-close-and-personal and discovered the damage. Sometimes we keep people at a distance so they don’t see our damage. We think we are doing a good job of keeping up appearances and all the while, something is faulty below the surface. Perhaps it’s something that occurred during a storm or time of trouble in the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s because of a repair-job in the past that wasn’t up to par.

We may have invited the inspector to assess the damage, hoping we can fool them or hope that they’re lousy in their job. We are so incredibly vulnerable up close. Under scrutiny. It’s when they find a chink in our armor, our protection, our covering, our roof; that the real work begins. A crew will arrive and set your world spinning, and it certainly won’t be quiet. We hide behind coverings and partially sheltered windows, keeping our damage, our hurts, hidden from view. But as the discovery crew mingles around our perimeters, they see through the meager sheers. While they may not fully see our damage, they can see our frame, our shadows.

The noise level inside my home is beyond a nuisance or annoying. It’s painful. As a headache begins to pound, I understand more about the daily noise we live with. We busy ourselves with activities and tasks. We hear the clamor of a washing machine or dryer, but it’s familiar. It’s a white noise; almost lulling us into contentment. This racket, geez, it’s unpredictable, unfamiliar and unwelcome. While I know that progress is being made outside of my view; I can’t help but wish them away. I begin to justify myself – it couldn’t be that much damage. They don’t know need to replace the whole roof. Couldn’t they just patch it up?

I’ve become a master of patching-it-up. Patch on a smile or a new hair color, all the while I’m leaking somewhere below the surface. The litany of my shingles that are in disarray are as tall as a ladder going to the top of my 2-story house. I can choose to repair one or two, here and there, but they won’t match. I can replace just the shingles on one section of the house, but the other sides have faulty shingles of their own.

The tarp the crew has laid out to protect the surfaces around my house will also help in the clean-up process. They will soon have the ability to gather up the tarps and discard of the junk easily into the dumpster. However, in the meantime, it is a hot mess of scrap and debris and an overturned garbage can. Much like the debris of my past, it seems to be an overwhelming disaster zone. I can gather it all up and discard it and present the illusion of nothing having been overturned. You know as well as I, no one is ever truly fooled by this swift-swoop-and-chuck routine.

Even as the destruction-construction crew takes a break, I sit in anticipation of their return. I’ve lived many years, with a certain level of nervousness, a palpitation of anxiety in my ears; a vibration that hums below detection or description. It is like the dog whistle who’s pitch is undetectable to human ears, but to a dog, [I’m assuming] it’s torturous.

As predicted, the peacefulness of their lunch break has succumbed to the pounding of a thousand hammers (maybe 6 really). Even as I focus on my own thoughts, my brain wanders. It sits down and protests forming 3 cohesive words. It causes me to wonder the weirdest things, they converse and laugh. A random wohoo seeps through the rafters. I of course, come up with clever conversations and challenges that would evoke a ‘wohoo’, but let’s be honest, they probably just evaded getting pooped on by a bird while atop the 2nd story roof.

The process of remodeling one’s life is likely akin to this roofing process. Damage. Inspection. New material. Destruction. A LOT of noise and mess…but you see, this process is not yet complete! I’m in the middle of it. My home is in the destruction and mess phase. My life is in the understanding of repair needing to be done. Both home and life require core repairs to stop from future damage taking hold. While the new shingles are still under wraps and protected from the elements (and from view), so too is my future. Oh yes, it’s tempting to peak past the packaging to see the new shingle color, but the end result will be so rewarding. Likewise, as each day dawns, I have the opportunity to view it with no wrapping obscuring my eyes. To view each opportunity as a mess and destruction or the reward of a job well done.

 

 

When Everyday Life is the Biggest Puzzle

Imagine your life as a jigsaw puzzle…

The information on the puzzle box is incredibly limited. It does not tell you how many pieces are inside. The photo on the outside of the box is just blue sky, scattered with soft focused clouds. As you look at the photo on the box, you mutter, “This is going to be so difficult to put together.” Every puzzle piece looks identical in color. The theory, in any time you put together a puzzle, is that the puzzle will look EXACTLY like the photo on the outside of the box. Your hands steadily open the box of the puzzle-of-life and remove the lid to see the contents. Much to your surprise, there are pieces of strange colors and of strange images, not all blue sky as you assumed.

My strategy, in putting together a puzzle, is to search out and place all the straight edges and corners to build the framework first. The beautiful blue frame stares back at you with the promise of many days yet to come. Your logical brain knows that life isn’t always going to be blue skies, it is a certainty that there may be clouds, maybe even a storm or two. As you fill in the pieces, you uncover a piece with an image of children. That’s pretty cool, not sure where they fit in, but it makes you smile. As you stir through the pieces, you discover an image of a lovely garden, again not sure where it fits, but pleasing nonetheless.

As you stir through yet more pieces, turning them right side up, you find a heart. Not just any heart, this one is broken. Oh! if only you knew where it fit, you could possibly prevent it from breaking. The next piece turned over, a hospital bed. You can assume that it must fit before the kids, after all, children are born in hospitals. But this piece is not even shaped like any of the other pieces. It is so random. You keep it within eye-line, always in sight, wondering when and where it fits.

You realize that you have excruciating back pain, you pass it off as having been sorting and searching for so long. Some hot packs and Advil with surely take care of it. There is a much bigger task at hand, making sense of this chaos. Hours and days blend together, as you piece together the story of your life. A little piece with a pill comes to sight, and another, and yet another. It seems as though the medications have multiplied and don’t resemble each other. You group them together and push them to the side.

You’re surveying the pieces before you. Some are brightly colored and some have dark murky images. A gloomy image of two people sitting across from each other in what looks like an office setting. These people do not look happy. One person with their head in the hands, the other holds a clipboard and pen. Unsure of what this means, you begin a new section of puzzle pieces.

Another shadowy piece is a bottle of poison, or so you think. When you look closer at the label, it appears to have some biohazard looking image on it. Is it a warning of something dangerous? Off to the side with the other dark pieces…

If only we were able to see all of the pieces of our life laid out in front of us. To see the timing and plan, the purpose of it all. Our sense of control would be so overwhelming, we would manage and manipulate the puzzle to fit our plan. Our way. Had I known that the piece with the broken heart would surface more times than I can count, I would have maybe withdrawn. Not allowed myself to love so ferociously. That would have been the worst, not the broken heart, the lack of passion in my life.

There is no way to compartmentalize life. There is no way to neatly organize our darkness or create nice, neat edges. The dark image of the people facing off in an office could represent many facets of my life. I’m not exactly sure which piece is which, perhaps it’s the conversation with a lawyer during my divorce. Perhaps it’s the conversation with a doctor that is just not listening to me or hearing the cry of my body. Perhaps it’s the conversation with a trusted friend that doesn’t understand or believe the abuse of my past. In any scenario, I’m was left feeling defeated and dark.

The dimness of a hospital bed, in this puzzle, served my parents, so many days and nights sitting around a hospital bed praying for better days. Cancer and disease are beasts that we try to tame. Days into months of lingering illness and pain. Some never know the victory over the beast. Little did I know, that in their death, I would learn about strength.

The ‘pill pieces’ have been present most of my adult life. I’ve battled depression and anxiety to epic proportions. I’ve had seasons of quiet and seasons of mayhem. Those manic seasons come and go, but never completely disappear. It’s in those season that I’ve craved peace. Sought it out and chased it. Peace is elusive. What you are certain will bring you peace, may be the core of chaos. While it is imperative to seek peace, seek discernment and wisdom equally.

In your busy-ness of life, you learn to pass off the little moments of discomfort as nothing more than nuisance. The back pain that stops you in your tracks can be attributed to a zillion things. Your weight, poor posture, an occupation on your feet all day. Never would you assume that your back pain may be the root of a deeper more invasive disease. Too busy to give it light, you pass it off as that, passing. When putting together the pieces of a puzzle within a puzzle, you discover you have an autoimmune disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis.  It’s when you understand your ‘biohazzard puzzle piece’ is not a warning of danger ahead, it is the treatment for the disease that you [and multiple doctors] failed to see. It’s the victory and defeat. You now have a name for the disease, but the treatment is another chapter in illness that you wouldn’t wish upon an enemy.

But in this tabletop view of life, you can see that these dark puzzle pieces are but small segments of a much bigger picture. Yes, they are visible, but they are surrounded by light. Not always sunshine, but light that gives purpose and life. Your life is that, purposeful. Breathe in the moment of right now. Un-burden yourself of the chaos and quest for having all of your pieces organized just right. Let go the pain of a season of dark days. Look for the lessons learned in those moments. Yes, even the darkness has a lesson to be learned. Sometimes it’s as simple as learning to not do that again, or it’s as complex as finding the voice within to stand up for yourself or a loved one in their dark season.

No, sunshine and blue skies would be too boring, for this girl. I will lean in and learn about love through the pain. Healing in the brokenness. Learn to slow down when my body tells me to. Life is to be lived, discovered anew. Throw the box away! Throw away the picture in your mind of how it should be. And, if life ever gets too blue sky, take a Sharpie and write cuss words across the pieces. Live life – out loud!!

 

 

Love is…

Please join me at Jordan Harrell’s site for a guest gig about marriage. 

Yes, really

Attend any wedding and you’ll likely hear 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. It is a beautiful litany of verses that describe the nature of love, unconditional love. Sadly, like Psalm 23 being read at funerals or even reciting the Pledge of Allegiance daily in elementary school, you become numb to its rich meaning…

Annisa Swanson | The Mighty Contributor

As the author of the book “Faith, Fat and Other F-Words,” Annisa has never been one to shy away from the power of words and challenging people to dig deep, look within and be truly authentic. She chooses to be bravely transparent as she battles chronic kidney disease and post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Annisa delves into the spokes of complications arising from illness and is a voice for those who may feel they are battling alone.

Source: Annisa Swanson | The Mighty Contributor