Defining Relationships

I was looking through old digital files, trying to find examples of some of my past work to create an online portfolio, when I came across a questionnaire on relationships that one of my nieces sent out in 2008. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner and the topics of love and relationships so relevant at this time, I thought this would be a great piece to post. I read through it all, and wouldn’t change any of my answers, even today.

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Did you think you would find your soul mate?  I had doubts early on. In fact, when I was in my 20s, I used to say I would never get married. I had seen too many bad relationships to think it was possible. But then I did marry, and I really loved him. But we never had any deep conversations about life and our beliefs and our future goals. We didn’t communicate and we didn’t spend quality time together; we just sort of drifted, and in the end we drifted apart. Once again, I didn’t believe that I would marry someone else. But God has a way of redirecting your steps when you get off track, and I believe He set the situation up so that Bart and I would meet. And when we did, things started coming together more clearly for both of us. Do I believe he is my soul mate? Yes. I think we make each other better people than we were when we were alone. Do I think that a soul mate will meet your every need in life? No. I think that you cannot expect one person to be everything to you; that’s where your friends and family come in. So you need to always be sure to continue to cultivate your friendships as well as your love relationship and not let one supersede the other.

What does it mean to be in love? That’s a tough one. Many people confuse being in lust with being in love. Or they enjoy that excitement you get when you first meet someone and you can’t stop thinking of them and you want to spend all your time with them. That doesn’t make it love though. In fact, you may feel strong feelings of love or attachment for someone and yet that person is still not who you are meant to spend your life with. I guess being in love means that you begin to realize that life is not all about you and what you can get out of a relationship, but what you can do for that other person to help them grow and know that they are truly special in someone else’s eyes. It’s about wanting to give someone else the bigger piece of pie even if you’d like it for yourself (and knowing that if they were serving, they’d give you the bigger piece).  🙂

16What makes you happiest about your relationship? That I know I am truly loved for who I am and that he would do anything to make me happy (well, not anything horrible).

Do you believe that you will be with this person forever? Yes

Do you believe God has a plan for you? Yes. I have been learning a lot about this through a class I have been taking called “Following God’s Will.” I also found this great passage in a devotional that I wanted to share with you:

“God’s plan for your life is not a written script that you must follow; rather, it is a journey with various important destinations and appointments, but also a great deal of freedom as to the pace and scope of the travel. God’s plan for you will always have a sense of mystery about it, but you can be certain that as you seek his leading, God will guide and direct you on your journey. Most of God’s promises are conditional. In other words, they depend on something that you are asked to do. If you separate yourself from God, you are removing yourself from his plan, his guidance, and his promises. Come back to him, and he will redeem your lost time.”

What do you believe is an unhealthy relationship? One where you find yourself crying more than laughing; one where the other person belittles you or hurts you in some way on a regular basis.

Do you think that people are alone because they make themselves that way? Some people choose to be alone, but I do not believe it is the case for everyone. I have heard a lot of single women talk about how they wish they could find the right person and get married. I feel for those women, but I don’t know how they are living their lives or what they are doing to actually find that right person. But sometimes God has other plans for their lives and they will continue to be unhappy until they are open to God’s will rather than their own.

Should you change for a person? You should be willing to change if that change is actually growth and something positive. But, no, I don’t think you should change in your overall belief system or in a way that is uncomfortable to you simply to keep another person around.

What are grounds to end a relationship?  physical abuse, mental abuse, unfaithfulness, unhappiness that cannot be reconciled, a total disconnect spiritually

What do you think is the biggest mistake you ever made in a relationship?  Not communicating. Also staying in a relationship simply because it was easier than getting out or because I didn’t want to be alone.Heart leaf

Can you be friends with an ex? Yes, I believe that is possible. In fact, it would be a preferable situation than to one of animosity. But it’s not always realistic.

Can girls and guys be [just] friends? Yes. If you are in a serious relationship, and your significant other has a friend of the opposite sex, as long as you have a strong and trusting relationship, there shouldn’t be a problem. However, if there is something missing from your relationship and it is not complete, then you (or your mate) may find yourself still in search of that elusive thing, and in that case — opposite sex friends may begin to become more than just friends. In those situations, it’s not possible to keep an innocent friendship. If neither of you has a significant other, then I guess in that case, it depends on how you feel about yourself (your self-esteem) and what the friendship provides for you.

What do think the most helpful information is you can give a person about relationships?  I just read a quote the other day that I thought was appropriate for this: “Just because you had a nightmare doesn’t mean you should stop dreaming.” —Jill Scott, Grammy Award-winning singer

You’re probably going to have some bad ones, or at the very least unfulfilling relationships, but you shouldn’t give up on love. Of course, no one’s going to come knocking on your door to find you. You’ve got to go out there and live your life. Do the things you enjoy with people you like to be around. When you’re out there participating in the world, being yourself, that’s when you will be open to the opportunities of finding someone who shares your interests and dreams.

Are you happy? Why or not?  Yes. Life may not be easy and all roses, but despite what the world tells us, I don’t believe that’s the way it is supposed to be anyway. We’re all going to have trials, but it’s how we react to them and what we do with them that moves us along our life path. And it’s who you have beside you, to help you get around the potholes and over the speed bumps, that makes the trip easier — whether that is a spouse, a friend, or a family member. We need other people in our lives and we need a purpose. Those things can help us be happy, but in the end it’s still up to us to choose to be happy. You shouldn’t always be in “pursuit of happiness,” however, but learn to be happy where you are . . . in every moment.

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Think about it. Are you in a fulfilling relationship? Are you happy?
What do you need to do today to get on the right path for YOU?

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Photos, Phrases, and a Little Flexibility

Sometimes I read other blog posts that inspire me and I think about sharing ideas from them with you, but especially when I don’t have a lot of time, I tend to “save them,” like good china, for another day and a longer post. Unfortunately, many of these wonderful little nuggets never actually make it to a post or get shared as they deserve.

I also take a lot of photos that I enjoy and believe others might enjoy as well, but so many of those don’t end up getting shared either. They stay tucked away in a folder (or several folders since I haven’t had time to organize them), unseen … unknown … unloved. 😦

So, I’ve decided to put some of my perfectionism aside and do a little more sharing a little more often. Even if I can’t write a long post, I’m going to make more of an effort to put together some of my favorite thoughts, inspirations, quotes, etc. (giving credit and passing on links to original sources as appropriate) along with some of my own photography, perhaps providing a little encouragement, a ray of sunshine, or an important reminder, at just the right time for someone who needs it.

When I share these thoughts and photos in the future, they won’t be accompanied by a lot of text. That’s the part that takes more time and keeps me from actually posting. Of course, I will still be writing longer entries as I can, but I hope you will enjoy these smaller more frequent bursts of “sunshine” and reminders to take a little time for yourself.

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You Don’t Need to Walk Alone

In a daily devotional on “The Impact of Right Relationships,” Dr. Charles F. Stanley wrote: “A group of people rightly connected can do so much more than a man or woman acting alone.”

I am happy to say that for the first time in my adult life, I am living in a neighborhood where people do this thing called connecting. Specifically, it is the people in my cul-de-sac that I have become friends with; however, Bart and I are branching out and getting to know some of our other neighbors as well. We have lived in other places where the people around us didn’t really seem to care about knowing the people who lived right next door to them. That’s just sad.

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In our cul-de-sac, we don’t all have all things in common, but each of us connects to several of the others in different ways, and we are learning how to look out for one another through various circumstances. It’s nice to know that if I ever need anything, like a ride to the store or a couple of potatoes for my pot roast, I can call or text them and someone always comes through. We’ve had a Bible study, a fall block party, and numerous chats across the yards (when weather has permitted). We have just started making plans for a spring block party, which I am really looking forward to.

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And when something more serious occurred, like the recent tragic death of one of our neighbors, we found even more ways to connect with, support, lift up, and love one another through the following days. At first, many of us were concerned about intruding; we didn’t want to appear nosy and insensitive. But it turns out that the most sensitive thing we could do was to reach out and lend a hand. It reminded me of this post that Lysa Terkeurst shared a couple days ago:

“My friend’s husband passed away after a long illness and when I asked her about some of the lessons she learned through those tough years, she said something that will stick with me forever. She said, ‘When people are going through hard life circumstances, don’t say “Well if there’s anything you need just let me know.”’

My friend said most days she couldn’t process how she was going to get through the next ten minutes, much less be able to ask others for help. I was challenged by this and wondered how I could help someone in need without being asked.

I could deliver dinner. Gas up their car. Mow their lawn. Pick up an extra gallon of milk or some pet food from the grocery store. Whatever it is, I’ll think I’ll just do it and I won’t wait to be asked.”

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This is what we did and this is the type of stuff I hope we will continue to be able to do for one another. Especially when you live in an area without any of your own family around, it is so wonderful to be able to build and experience a new “family.” If you don’t have that type of community—if your neighbors don’t really seem to be connecting—maybe YOU can be the one to get something started. Have a cookout and invite everyone over—even if you’ve never spoken to some of them before; host a pot luck in your home or create a space for one outdoors (that’s what our fall party was); set up an event for all the kids to get together and play. Maybe everyone else is just waiting for someone to make the first move. That someone could be you.

As enjoyable as it is to share good times with your neighbors, it’s also nice to know that once you have connected, it’s easier to share the everyday moments as well. When Bart was out of town a couple months ago, a few of my neighbors checked on me. One family even invited me over for dinner one night, which was super sweet (and very enjoyable). Just this past weekend, I was sick with an ear infection and a cold. I got calls and texts from different neighbors asking me if I needed anything. It’s bad enough when you feel sick and miserable, but how wonderful to not also feel alone and forgotten. And you know what, it’s okay to need others.

DSC02083The Faith Barista posted this just today: “Following his beating, it’s likely Jesus could not physically carry the cross all the way to Calvary. Jesus needed someone. In that moment, a man whose journey somehow crossed his path was pulled in to help him. We don’t know if Simon even knew who Jesus was. … All we know is that an ordinary person helped the Savior. Through one simple, understated act, became part of the journey with Jesus. And I’m reminded. It’s okay to need someone. When the cross is too heavy to carry, but we still want to be faithful to see the journey through, needing someone isn’t a shameful. … needing is good because it creates space for God to enter in. And love us through others.”

In a blog post on friendship, Lysa TerKeurst says, “Loving someone else is one of the most God-honoring things we can do today. After all, we’re reminded in Scripture that all the commandments can be summed up and fulfilled if we will love others.”

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“Let no debt remain outstanding,
except the continuing debt to love one another,
for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. …
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor.
Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Romans 13:8–10

So, my advice, my encouragement, for you today is to remember that you do not have to walk through life alone. Reach out, connect, walk beside someone else; you can start with the people next door. What a blessing it is to build bonds with our neighbors.

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Life Lessons – Heart Connections

Last year, I entered Real Simple magazine’s fourth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest. The question was: “When did you first understand the meaning of love?” Just last night, I read the winning entry published in the April 2012 issue of the magazine. It was a great story, and it brought tears to my eyes.

It also reminded me that I had not yet shared my own story with anyone, besides a couple friends who provided feedback while I was writing it. So, today, I’m posting another special feature article rather than one of my “usual” posts. I hope it touches your heart, makes you think, and maybe even inspires you to reach out to someone in pain or re-connect with a family member.

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Heart Connections

I knelt on the bathroom floor, holding Gabrielle’s hair back as she sobbed and threw up; my body shook, but not from the cold tiles. My baby sister had just told me that she was tired of being sick, tired of hurting so much, tired of everything. She wanted to give up. But I couldn’t let that happen. She was only 22, and her 3-year-old daughter, Ashley, needed her.

I clutched my personal heartache close as I watched her suffer. She didn’t need to know about my pain. Not right now. Not when, more than anything else, I had to convince her that life was good and worth fighting for. I prayed a frantic but silent prayer—please God, help me help her.

In the prior year, after a divorce left her with a scarred heart, Gabrielle had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She underwent surgery and then attempted to move on with her life. As Gabrielle recovered and adjusted to her role as single mother, we all thought everything was on an upswing for her, and we were thankful.

Meanwhile, back at my house: after 11 years of marriage, my husband and I continued to drift apart; we were just so different; we loved each other, but were no longer “in love.” Pick your cliché;  the truth was, I felt trapped and unhappy. We rarely spent time together anymore, and neither of us really knew what we wanted in life, or how to communicate, be honest with ourselves, or take action. On top of that, the Lab we got as a puppy shortly after our wedding was not well. I struggled to keep my emotions in check and my life under control as I went to work every day, pretending like nothing was wrong.

But I wasn’t the only one pretending. Gabrielle had been keeping her own secrets. She finally admitted to Elizabeth, another sister, that the cancer was not gone; in fact, it had spread to her uterus and her liver. She had also started chemotherapy treatment without telling anyone.

Everything I researched seemed to emphasize the dangers of chemo. In fact, a lot of people get sicker faster when they are on chemo, and that was exactly what was happening to my sister. Her immune system was wiped out; she began losing weight and became very tired and run down. In her last conversation with her doctors, they had told Gabrielle there was nothing more they could do for her except try to make her “as comfortable as possible.” They gave her a year to live. That’s when she finally decided to share the news with the family, which led up to our bathroom moment.

I watched my sister go through another round of dry heaves. There was nothing left inside of her. Or me. Oh, I was physically healthy at the time, but with Gabrielle’s illness and the painful disconnect in my marriage, I was drained. At home, it felt like we had both checked out already. The only connection we shared at this point was grief over our dying dog.

But I couldn’t deal with my personal issues right now. I had to be strong. I had to come up with a plan to save Gabrielle’s life.

You know, up until that time, I don’t think I had ever appreciated my family quite so much. Growing up with five sisters and one brother was often challenging with limited space, limited funds, unlimited arguing. I used to wish I was an only child. But as my sister lay there beside me, curled up on the floor, I allowed the despair over my own personal loss to mingle with the anguish I felt for her, and I wept.

Then, just like in the Christmas story about the Grinch, I felt my heart swell several sizes with love—real love, not heightened feelings based on hormones and chemistry and starry-eyed dreams of a perfect future, but a true heart connection. Something that had been sadly lacking in my marriage. At that moment, I would have willingly given up my life to give Gabrielle a second chance. But that obviously wasn’t in God’s plan.

So, the first step in my plan was to temporarily get Gabrielle out of Florida, to a place where she could rest and receive special care. The obvious choice—Aunt Robin’s. Robin was living in California at the time, so she sent plane tickets for Gabrielle and my grandmother to come out for a visit. It was a good spot for a stress-free getaway. Plus our aunt is a natural nurturer, so it only made sense. Her main goal was to try to help Gabrielle see that she could still find joy in life if she didn’t give up.

While Gabrielle was out of town, and little Ashley spent time with other family members, I began researching treatment programs. I met with a doctor who focused on treating the whole body, not individual parts or symptoms. The way he explained it made sense: over several weeks, through nutritional changes as well some complementary therapies, the acidic atmosphere that cancer survives and thrives in is neutralized, and a more alkaline and healthy environment is created in the body. I was sold. But now to convince Gabrielle.

An update from Robin provided a glimmer of hope. Gabrielle had gone horseback riding, and her spirits had improved tremendously. She was eating fairly well and actually joking around a bit. Robin told me that Gabrielle was concerned about coming back and having everyone tell her what she should do. So, we agreed that I would be the family spokesperson.

I worked with the rest of the family to figure out a schedule. We made arrangements for who would take Gabrielle to the doctor’s office each day for treatment, who would watch Ashley, who could help financially, etc. Just making a plan gave me a more positive outlook, and it really pulled our already-close family even closer together. When Gabrielle came back, I was happy to find her receptive to our ideas.

Mondays were my days to take Gabrielle to the doctor. Thankfully, the company where I worked was flexible and understanding about my hours during that time. And I chose to ignore my personal heartache and focus on my sister’s health and happiness.

The first visit was fairly easy. We just sat and talked for a few hours while she got an IV drip. I think we developed an even closer bond during that time. The nurses said there were only a few potential side effects, but Gabrielle experienced them all—nausea, loose stool, and later trouble with her IV pic line, which had to be replaced.

Gradually, things got worse. On some days, Gabrielle felt so sick that she couldn’t get out of bed. I got a call one morning from my mom. Gabrielle wouldn’t get up. I left work and spent quite a bit of time convincing her that it was important for her to keep her appointment. She finally went with me.

The worst thing about talking Gabrielle into continuing with her treatments was my own doubts and fears that began to emerge. What if this wasn’t helping her? What if she got worse and it was my fault? Every time I thought of this, my breath caught in my throat and my heart pounded wildly as I blinked away the tears. That just can’t happen! I had to believe that she would get better; I had to believe in something at this point. I couldn’t give up.

Thankfully, despite my concerns, after the treatment plus some added nutritional support through supplements and natural juices, and special home care from our oldest sister, Theresa, Gabrielle began to slowly get better. I think several other factors helped in the healing process: Gabrielle realized that life still held moments of joy and possibility. And we both figured out that it’s important to learn to love yourself first and determine what you want out of life before you can really commit and communicate to building a lasting relationship with someone else.

I also discovered the importance of working in community, being there for one another, not trying to take on the world alone. You know, we’re all interconnected in some way — like pieces of a puzzle. And life just seems to make so much more sense when we look at the big picture and find our place in it.

The happy ending to this story? It has been 14 years since Gabrielle was given one year to live, plus she finally found her soul mate, and they were married just last month.

Me? My dog passed away and my divorce happened shortly after, as it needed to so we could both move on. I not only survived, but I’m now remarried … this time to my true heart connection.

The missing piece to my life puzzle has been put in place, and love is the glue that holds us together.

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Disclaimer: I don’t have the best of memories, so I may not have all of the details/facts of the events right, but the story and the emotions are true and real.