Honey if you love me–please smile!

In middle school I remember many parties where we entertained ourselves by playing the game “Honey if you love me—please smile!”  The game consisted of the person who was “it” going around the circle repeating that phrase in hopes of getting someone to crack a smile—while the circle members did their best to resist.  Though simple, a good deal of strategy was employed in choosing the circle member to approach—who giggles the easiest?  Who can’t resist laughing at a funny voice?  Who will lose their cool if I’m 2 inches from his or her face?

As we approach Valentine’s day and our thoughts turn towards the relationships in our lives I wonder how many out there are playing “Honey if you love me—please smile!” on a day-to-day basis?  I don’t mean playing games with those you love, but rather trying to identify and manage the emotions of those close to you.  This is different than noticing when a friend or loved one is feeling up or down and responding accordingly, instead I mean when the focus is primarily on the other person to the neglect of noticing your own emotions.

Sometimes when a child grows up in a home full of chaos, perhaps due to a parent struggling with addiction or active abuse in the home, he or she learns to read the emotions of the adults in the family and seeks to manage their emotions.  This is a self-protective coping mechanism which can be vitally important at the time—if the child’s father is drunk when he comes home, for instance, the child needs to be able to sort out whether it is safer to stay out his way or engage and placate him.  However, the coping mechanisms we rely on in a survival mode, can turn into a hindrance once we are in safe and healthy relationships.

Still, you may wonder how being aware of the emotions of others can hurt.  As I noted, it’s ok to notice how those around us are feeling—but does it allow you to not pay attention to your own emotions?  Do you ignore your own bad day in order to run over and fix someone else’s?  The danger here is not as much being aware of others as allowing that to replace being aware of what you are feeling.  When we ignore our own emotions and needs it opens us up to having our boundaries violated, not caring for ourselves when needed, and potentially depression and other mental illnesses.  If you find yourself rushing to identify the emotions of those around you, take a moment to consider what you’re feeling at that moment.  Can you identify your own emotion?  Is it difficult to identify?  Do you feel guilty acknowledging how you feel?  Those who answer yes, may be struggling with codependent patterns in relationships.  Next time we will more closely define codependency and consider another way it shows up—when our caring for others becomes caretaking.  See you then!

Free to dance

Its time for Part II of our Limberlost series!  I actually find Elnora’s mother, Kate, to be one of the most intriguing characters in the book.  Those of you who commented that you plan to read the book, this will contain some plot spoilers so you may wish to wait and read it in the future!

We meet Kate Comstock as she is sending her daughter off to her first day at the High School in the nearby town.  She is critical of Elnora’s appearance and we later learn has intentionally witheld information from her in hopes of souring her educational dreams with reality.  Her bitterness is mystifying for the reader.  We know throughout the tale that she lost her husband while Elnora was an infant and that she has memorialized him by refusing to cut timber on their land, keeping his clothing in place in her room, and on many nights weeping openly and loudly for him at the edge of the swamp where she helplessly watched him drown.  We eventually learn that her weakness from childbirth left Kate unable help her husband when he was drowning, leading to the wedge of grief between her and her child–a grief that she has nurtured and kept alive over the years.

The author does a wonderful job of allowing us to see that Kate is not merely driven by bitterness but also exudes strength as a woman who values self-reliance and wisdom.  Most likely she would always have been austere and practical in how she expressed emotion, spent money, and related with others.  We are given glimpses into the good parts of Kate–the woman who is secretly hurt when her daughter seeks out others for comfort, who is surprised at the magnitude of her daughter’s accomplishments, who is slowly softening towards her daughter, though she barely recognizes it in herself.  It is tempting to hate her and yet we see how not all that she does for her daughter is misguided, even when it stings.  The reader is not allowed to be comfortable in bitterness either.

The turning point in Kate’s life comes when her sister-in-law finally reveals the truth that Kate’s husband died because he was trying to avoid being seen returning from the house of another woman.  This truth shatters Kate’s glorified image of the man she was married to for barely one year and frees her to reach out and love the living.  We see Kate become free to enjoy life, enjoy her daughter’s talents, take pride in her appearance, and cease living in fear.

There is a beautiful image in the book where Kate asks Elnora to play the violin for her, (Elnora having hidden the talent she inherited from her father for many years), and we see Kate begin to dance in the moonlight.  Whether it is intentional or not, it brings to mind the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes 3 that contrasts the time for mourning with a time for dancing.  Learning the truth about her husband was a catalyst, but she had made many small changes along the way that had chipped away at her bitterness and had the humility to let go when she realized her grief was hung on a hollow image.

She stands as both reminder and warning to examine the grief and resentment we hold close to our hearts.  Grief is normal and will be part of certain seasons of life.  It is healthy to walk through the sadness and anger with the understanding that there is a new life on the other side–one partly shaped by the grief–but life indeed.  Kate chose to keep the grief alive rather than to walk through it and resume emotionally connecting with others.  Be aware if your grief begins excusing you from engaging in life and loving those around.  The good news is that there is always space for healing and for claiming the future years for many a dance in the moonlight.

Take-out Version: Grief is normal, grief is good, grief can bring change, but grief that isolates and embitters should be examined.



A new story for St. Valentine’s Day

It seems like Valentine’s Day elicits strong emotions all around whether they are happy, angry, or sad.  I’ll admit to not being sure what the origin of its celebration is in U.S. history, but it has become a holiday focused on romantic love, particularly its sexual expression.  We are trained to ignore the other loving relationships in our lives and to feel sad and mopey if we don’t have a date (I’ll admit it, I’ve been there!).  I encourage all who are reading this to take a moment and consider the many individuals in your life who care for and love you–friends, parents, nieces, nephews, co-workers, and beyond.  How would today be different if you focused on the varied ways that you are loved outside of a romantic relationship and expressed your care in return?  If you are in a romantic relationship, what if you focused less on having the “perfect valentines” and more on giving a great valentines?

My main point is not that its bad to be sad or mopey if you don’t have a date or didn’t get a valentine, but that you have the ability to write your own story for today.  We know very little about the actual St. Valentine, so be free to write your own “love story” and let it include the breadth of love and care in your life.  Invite a friend for dinner, fix your pets a special treat, send a valentine to your grandmother, create your own V-day tradition–you might be surprised how much love you have around you!

Take-out Version: Love comes in many forms beyond the romantic–what will your Valentine’s love story be?