Thoughts About Pain

Pain sucks. It’s excruciating and difficult and it HURTS and I hate it.

And it’s beneficial. What a jerk.

I don’t want to have to acknowledge the good parts of pain. In the last three years especially, my life has exploded in pain more times than I can count. My health, wealth, family, and self have all been torn apart in some form or other.

But you know what? It’s made me more determined than ever to live my life to the fullest (because I’m a stubborn mule). I have a life! I refuse to sit in my suffering and pour pain like gravy on my own head.

I want joy. I want new experiences. I want to reach out of my pain and connect with other people. I don’t want pain to tell me what to do. In some things I may be limited, but I want to go out and do the things I CAN.

Pain is not always the same. You know this: there are good days and bad days, bad things in good days, and good things in bad days.

If you are suffering right now, things will change. I’m not gonna candy-coat it and say things will be better. But it will be different. The pain you are in right now won’t always be the same.

There have been many times when this sentence has been a literal lifeline to me: things will change. I know it’s true because that’s part of the definition of life: whether on the atomic or cellular level or above, life IS change. So your pain will change, too. You’re not stuck.

And there are some good things that come out of pain. Things I aspire to. Patience, peace, joy, kindness, perseverance, compassion, self-control. Hope.

I feel like the more pain a person experiences, the greater their capacity for these good things.

Not that they’re necessarily happening right now in your life, but I think that when pain hollows you out, you can choose what goes back in. You may not choose perfectly, and that’s okay. We’re all trying to pick the right things! Just keep trying, keep experimenting, keep going.

Also, check out this quote on pain from one of my favorite authors, Jim Butcher. He’s a weird, wise guy.

And, even though it’s counterintuitive, I love this passage in the Bible about rejoicing in suffering and how it leads to hope. It’s in the letter to the Romans, chapter 5, verses 3-5 (shorthand = Romans 5:3-5). I linked the whole chapter so you can see context if you’d like. It’s complicated, but rewarding to think about.

Keep adding to your life, my friend. Things will change.

Oh, one more bit of encouragement before I go: You have worth. Even if you don’t believe this about yourself, please know that I believe it about you (and your life) with my whole heart.

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On Loneliness

I dream in color.

Dreams complete with sounds, sensations, smells, tastes – it’s as if it’s really happening.

Which is why this morning’s dream hurt so much. I awoke with a tangible ache and fervently tried to go back to sleep, back to the dream. But the moment was over.

I haven’t been especially personal on here, yet, and I’m sorry for that. I’m going to redress the imbalance.

I’ve been separated from my husband for almost two-and-a-half years now, but we are not divorced. There are several reasons this hasn’t happened yet, chief among which is financial. We separated because I finally got the courage to address several extremely unhealthy things that were happening in a series of letters and ask for a conversation. He refused.

After 2.5 years of separation, I still wear my ring, because I’m still married. Our eleventh anniversary is in a couple of weeks. My 35th birthday is the week after.

If you’ve never read Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages, you should. It’s helped me understand a lot about myself as well as how to interact with others most effectively.

I tell you about this praiseworthy and incredibly useful book so that you have context for what I’m about to say: one of my highest love languages is, and always has been, physical touch. I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about closeness. Proximity. Contact. Which is sorely lacking in my life right now. I was the kid who hugged my mom for so long when she was cooking that she had to stir with one hand and hold me with the other. In polite society, one does not hug, snuggle, cuddle, or touch another person without permission. And it means so much to me that I can’t bring myself to ask.

I still have my own healthy boundaries where touch is concerned. And I am not interested in anything inappropriate. But I almost never turn down a good, long hug.

This morning’s dream almost made me cry for the ache of it.

***

I was employed by a man I had never met, but knew of. He was slightly older than me, no more than five years, I’d guess. His housekeeper was teaching me my duties. One of them was to put some sort of product in his hair. (I don’t know why he didn’t do it himself, but hey, this is a dream, and dreams don’t always make sense.) The housekeeper was fairly tall and could reach his head easily. She started briskly rubbing something onto his scalp that she got from a deodorant-like container and applied with her fingers. I stood against the wall and watched the warm, comfortable light bathe the walls, keeping one eye on her technique. But then she was called away.

I asked him to sit down because he was quite a bit taller than me. I expected him to sit backward on the toilet, facing the wall (this location is probably because that’s where my mom always did my hair), but he sat half-on, half-off, facing me sideways.

Wanting to show that I was a capable and thoughtful employee, I turned it into a sort of scalp massage and applied the product in small amounts, paying careful attention to my task. Occasionally, I glanced at his face to make sure he was not getting impatient or uncomfortable. He always had his eyes closed, and sometimes a small smile flitted across his mouth.

He had rested his forearms on his thighs in a very relaxed posture, but now his long arms encircled my waist almost completely. Pressing his face into the soft place just below my left shoulder, he took a deep, slow breath and let it out again, the picture of calm contentment.

I gently put my hands on the sides of his head and leaned him back, my fingers still in his hair, so as not to muss his clothes.

“None of that, now,” I murmured. “You’ll get me fired before I even finish.”

He smiled and released me, eyes still closed, and rested his arms again on his thighs. I looked at his face for a moment, searching for artifice, but found instead peace.

Fingers began to massage scalp once again.

And then I woke up.

In A Word: Grit

This morning, I heard someone talk about grit as a personality characteristic – he said it was something that helped people succeed. Dictionaries list synonyms like courage, resolve, determination, and perseverance.

My mind went directly to sandpaper.

Y’know, because its coarseness is measured as “(number) grit”. So then I started thinking about those strips of sandpaper businesses put on stairs or ramps to help with traction.

And the metaphor is completed: grit is emotional traction!

Grit as a characteristic helps us keep our footing on the often slippery and precarious road of life.

On Humility

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and prayed for humility tonight when I was tucking my daughter in. She asked me what it meant. I told her my thoughts, but once she was in bed, I decided to pursue it further.

Humility comes from the Latin humus (meaning ground), humilis (meaning low or lowly), which became humilitas, which was humilite in Old French, and is now, in what is called Middle English, fashioned as humility.

There are several definitions out there: Google says it means, “a modest or low view of one’s own importance“; Merriam-Webster lists it as, “freedom from pride or arrogance“; dictionary.com defines it as, “modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.“; and Wikipedia says, “Dictionary definitions accentuate humility as a low self-regard and sense of unworthiness.”

My favorite out there is Cambridge English Dictionary’s definition: “the feeling or attitude that you have no special importance that makes you better than others; lack of pride.”

That’s basically how I explained it to my daughter – understanding that you are not better than anyone else, and that everyone is smart and talented in their own way. What each person has to contribute is of value.

The more I think about it, the more I like that definition. I’ve often struggled (as I think we all have, at one time or another) with wanting to feel special, and waiting to give that name to myself until I have something to contribute that absolutely everyone will recognize as valuable. The problem with withholding this label is that we are all unique with different experiences and therefore different values. Nothing will ever be universally valued, and things that are different can’t be valued on the same scale.

Take, for instance, this completely made up example. A group of people is lost in the wilderness. In their number is someone who can cook, someone who is good at physical defense, someone who listens well, someone who encourages, someone who is good at communicating, someone with creative ideas to solve problems, someone skilled at healing, someone who can mend clothes, someone good at finding sticks for fire, someone who can dress an animal for cooking, and someone good at helping. At any point in time, any of these skills and abilities can be infinitely valuable to any other member of the group, but none of them are really comparable to the others in terms of some sort of universal worth system.

So the goal of humility becomes to love and honor yourself and others as unique and intrinsically valuable beings with wonderful things, ideas, and actions to contribute to the world. Not more, but not less, either. We’re all standing on the ground.

I’d love to know what you think about humility! Leave me a comment, and let’s have a conversation.

Summer Leaves

Yellow leaves swirl past on a summer day

And I wonder

if some deep hurt has caused them to sicken and fall, running away on the current of the breeze

or

if they saw their short lives could be all the more lovely if they would release their camouflage and take a journey into the unknown

Sunset

Age is sometimes called “the sunset of our years”
and this is said with some regret,
a feeling of something lost.

But consider a sunset:
We rediscover the world around us,
awash in new colors
The fireflies come out to play and
cicadas serenade,
the hum of our lifeblood
loud within the senses
We seek out the ones we love,
gather them beside us
and hold them tight
We breathe more deeply,
know ourselves more fully,
the whole of our life’s experience
contained in every moment
We feel relief that the day is almost over,
allow ourselves to finally relax

Twilight comes, and with it, the glimmer of the brightest stars

Until, at last, we are wrapped in that starry cloak

and rest.

A Letter

I think we are alike, you and I. Not in look or speech or manner, but in heart and thought and passion. And since I see myself in you and the music of your life, I lay these notes before you: Write your symphony! Come back to your art; to your heart. Keep asking yourself what matters – not with guilt and shame, but so that you know, and so you can follow that path. Use your passion and enthusiasm as fuel to propel you forward, closer to truth, and joy, and purpose.

You will get lost sometimes, and it will hurt like fire and drowning all at once. But you know what? That makes you a human being. You get lost, you make a mistake, you fall. Then you get up, apologize if you need to, and keep going the best you can. Because success is not an option if you don’t also risk failure. You can never win if you don’t risk losing something. And life is not life without both pain and pleasure. To be a whole person, you have to embrace both.

* A longer version of this was originally written in a letter, but I realized I was talking to myself. Posted here because maybe you need to read some part of this, too. ❤