Can You Find The Silver Lining?

I haven’t posted here in a while.  There’s been a lot going on, birthdays, graduations, travels, school concerts and soon dance recitals – mixed in with the other multitudes of minutia that make up life (VA appointments, errands, paying bills – you know what I mean).    And I do have things to share about some of those experiences – but they’re still….taking form and finding the right words to write.

So while that continues to gel, I’m going to take a risk.  I’m going to be blunt about something I almost never talk about, not unless you’re part of a very treasured handful of people.  But maybe my sharing it can help give some solid strength to my shaky legs as I travel this path of healing.  And maybe, just maybe, it can help someone else if I share it.  Even if it’s only to know they’re not the only out there – because in the depth of the dark night when you’re battling against your darkest self – you feel very much alone.  Even when you’re not.

For a longer time than I care to admit to, I’ve dealt with various forms of self-harm and self-abuse.  From purposefully starving myself and denying food until even my body gave up and no longer recognized what ‘hungry’ meant.  To actively seeking to cause myself pain.  In very specific and purposeful ways, with the sole intention being to punish myself.  I still fight with it.

Sometimes the punishment was for things I could point at and say ‘I said this’ or ‘I did that’ or ‘I thought “x.”‘  And I’d use those reasons to justify why I deserved it.  Why I deserved not just the pain I was inflicting on myself, but every bad thing that had or ever could happen to me.  I deserved every last bit of it – and none of the good.  A lot of times, I didn’t even need a reason.  My existence was reason enough that I deserved every bit of pain and punishment I could inflict.

No, I’m not a cutter.  I don’t do anything that leaves marks or scars that can be seen (not past a handful of hours).  And chances are – even if you saw me just seconds after I finished  – you still wouldn’t see anything.  I choose the most sensitive and secret parts to inflict the greatest amounts of pain and punishment on.  Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?  I’m not going to go into any details on what I do, that’s not the point here, and I don’t want to give anyone else who is struggling any ideas on things they have or haven’t tried.

Here’s the thing, if you’ve never experience the need – yes, need – to self-harm, you can’t understand the compulsion, drive, urge, very nearly obsession that takes over your brain until you follow through.  And often times, it’s an escalation thing.  One outlet might work for a while, but you get used to it, so you have to find a new way to inflict pain, or a way to intensify it, to get the same, if very temporary, relief.  And it’s an insidious thing.  It sneaks up on you, even when you think you’re strong and doing well.  It attacks when you’re alone, when you’re vulnerable, when you’re not looking.  This graphic below gives a little insight into the cyclic nature of it:

self_harm_diagram

 

I’m very lucky and very blessed.  I have a wonderful inner circle of supportive and loving people who do everything they can to support me, as I battle to end this cycle.  It’s beyond difficult for me to fathom why they do this.  Why they care so much, why they love me so much, why it matters what happens if it’s happening to me.

When I’m at my strongest and healthiest, I may not understand or think I deserve all they give me, but I accept it and am grateful for it.  When I’m at my most vulnerable and sincerely fighting the urge to inflict very real physical pain on myself almost on a heartbeat by heartbeat basis…I have trouble even accepting it.  I don’t deserve it (in my perception of reality – a flawed perception, I understand that on a strictly logical basis, but there it is – logic has no hand in this reality).  I don’t deserve the love, the concern, the support, the tremendous generosity of these so very loving people.   I want to hide from them.  I want to disappear.  I want to become the nothing that I feel like I am.

I’m trying to help you understand the very warped reality, the darkness that my mind lives in during these times, even while I realize that if you haven’t been there – you’ll never fully comprehend the starkness and desperation of it.

Despite all of this, those special few have never abandoned me to my inner demons.  Despite not always understanding.  Despite the heartache that I know I have caused them at the thought of some of what I’ve done.  They have stood by me, and forgiven me time and again – even when I couldn’t forgive myself.  Even as I’ve stumbled and tripped along my way to fixing what is broken within me, to finding a healthy me under it all.   And because of this, I’ve come lightyears from where I once was.

I stumbled again last night.  I was cruel to myself, and I caused myself physical pain.  Not nearly as cruel, not nearly as much pain as I’ve been known to do at my worst.  After  fighting and fighting I gave in, because I was exhausted.  I was tired, and tired of the fight and wanted so badly for the quiet and the relief that usually comes from surrendering.  And after it was all over I was in tears, because that relief never came.  I’d lost that battle.  And for nothing.

But today, with a clearer head, something occurred to me that I need to try to remember more often than I do.  Often times we’re told ‘don’t look back, you’re not going that way’.  And for a good deal of situations, that’s true.  BUT…but…sometimes we do need to look back.  Not to wallow in our past, but to remind ourself just how far we’ve come already – when it feels like we still have so very far to go and don’t have the strength to keep going.  There was a time that I inflicted pain on myself on a daily basis – sometimes multiple times a day or for entire days without rest.

Even counting last night’s stumble, in the past year I’ve only given in maybe a handful of times – in an entire year!  Put into that kind of perspective – I’ve come so very far!!  I may not be where I want to be yet.  But it truly makes me take another look at how far is left to the goal of health, versus how far I’ve already come just to get where I am now.

Now, I know what a healthy mindset is, and can maintain one for long periods of time.  I know the mindset I want to have, who I want to be and am working to become.  And I realized something else.  In not gaining the relief, even temporary as it would have been, the cycle is breaking down.  I may have given in, but it doesn’t mean I’ve failed.  Rather it showed me how far I’ve come, and that my work to fix myself is not for nothing.  I may not be fixed – yet – but the changes are taking effect.  Some of it is beginning to sink in – if slowly and only subconsciously – that maybe I do have a small bit of value.  It has to be, or the relief would have come.

I have no trouble seeing the body as sacred and to be honored and treated gently – for others.  The idea of anyone I love and care about harming themselves as I have done, is horrifying to me.  And yet…that horror is not there when I look at myself.  Someday, I hope it will be.  I’m working to try and see and honor the sacred within myself.  To see my existence as something to be celebrated, not punished.  To see value and worth in myself.  And when I can’t, I try to remember what those I love and trust have said that they see in me.  I rely on their faith and belief in me, when my own faith and belief in myself falters.

It’s been said that you can’t ‘live on borrowed light.’  And you can’t.  But sometimes you need someone else to light your candle when you can’t find that first spark yourself.  Sometimes you need someone else to believe in you and see value and worth in you, before you can see it in yourself.  Sometimes, before you can love yourself, you need someone else to love you even in your broken and flawed self, to know that even you deserve love.  I’ve been so very lucky to have not just one, but a handful of dear people, that have been willing to do just that for me.  Even when I stumble and fall, they still love me, they still support me, and they remind me that it’s not the end of the world.

Losing one battle, does not lose the war, as long as you regroup and fight again.  So, a reminder to myself, and a reminder to anyone else out there fighting their own battles, don’t give up.  Rest, if you need to.  Heal, if you need to.  And then pick up your sword and fight again.  Remind yourself how far you’ve already come, to give you the strength to keep going.

MB-MA123_LRG

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Who’d Have Ever Believed?!

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, marked exactly one year, since I began re-attending church.  I’ve kept my return very quiet, even among my friends, because even I have been unsure where it might lead or even if it would last.  After a year, I guess it’s time to be a bit more open.  Since sharing this story does identify some of my family, and I haven’t asked their permission to do so, I’ll only identify them by an initial – our of respect for their privacy.

I was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the LDS or Mormon church – as many know it.  My mother came over from Scotland to Los Angeles on a green card, and converted to LDS.  I don’t know her exact conversion story, only the rough time period and where.  We attended church fairly regularly through my Primary years.  I do know that when we were struggling a great deal, when I was just a toddler, the church helped us a great deal.  Those struggles ended when we rented a home with my godmother (the rent on our apartment and my godmothers apartment had gone up at the same time, and it was thought a handy way to save money if we could make it work.)

I can remember once waiting for her in a kind of lobby with a kind woman while she was in the temple (I couldn’t have been more than four years old – if that).  Although I only have the one memory.  I’m not sure when she stopped attending the temple or why.

Near the time of my baptism, I found out that a friend of mine, the daughter of the then bishop of our ward, had been molested by the husband of one the primary teachers.  I told my mother, as I’d been taught to do.  She talked to the Bishop.  The man was kept under watch by two other elders during church services.  To my mother’s knowledge that was the extent of anything being done.  The man in question had a long record with the local police for …troubles.  My mother did not feel that she could trust me to be safe while she was away from me, and after my confirmation we stopped attending.  (This is the official reason, though in a moment of unusual bluntness a few years later, she also admitted to “not liking who you were becoming” – meaning me.  I’m not sure if it was because of her vehement feminist views, or that my behavior smacked to much of indoctrination – she’d call it brain washing.)

You might imagine that life in Utah, as inactive members is not exactly…easy.  Couple this with my changing schools the next year to a private Catholic school.  The only Mormon in a school filled with kids that felt they were discriminated against daily.  I was the “whipping boy.”  Fortunately for me, my godmother is Catholic.  She was the Mother Superior of her convent before she left.  This meant that in the majority of cases, I understood their beliefs better than they themselves did.  I never pulled less than an A in religion class, and even read in the mass that was held every thursday.  My final solution was to tell any of my taunters that when they could understand their own religion as well as I understood theirs, then, maybe I would discuss mine with them.

Two years at a Catholic private school, and a year at a Lutheran private school, and many….difficulties later, I was back in public school.  The friends I’d once had, no longer had the time of day for me.  I’d been gone to long – and besides, we weren’t active – so we were horrible people, they didn’t want to associate with me.  My friends became the other misfits and the wedge between myself and the church widened.  I chastised a girl who was saying how bad another girl was for skipping seminary one day, by exclaiming that by that rule I must be the devil himself – I hadn’t been to church since my confirmation and leaving the lunch room.  I’m told she shut up pretty quickly after I left.

By the time I graduated high school, I was also no longer identifying myself as Mormon.  It was a gradual thing.  At first, in middle school,  I only claimed to be Christian and would not identify which denomination.  By the end of high school I no longer even claimed that.  If asked, I self identified as Pagan.  I was sick of the discrimination, the double standards and the hypocrisy that had run rampant through my life.  I wanted nothing to do with the Mormon church as I knew it.  You couldn’t pay me to admit to being Mormon.  Mind you, my beliefs on Christ himself, never left…but I wanted nothing to do with any man made construct around him.

I was able to blend my beliefs about Christ quite easily with what I learned about paganism in all it’s various forms.  I did not jump directly to paganism.  I explored and learned about every religion I could get my hands on.  Attending Catholic mass with my godmother, attending the Protestant church, learning of the BaHai, Buddism, Hindu, Judaism, Islam – you name it…if I could find information, I read it.

Understandably, my self cobbled belief system set me apart as an outsider, never mind being lesbian or bi.  I joined the LDS sorority in University, because the majority of my friends were there, and you were not required to be LDS to join.  Lambda Delta Sigma, Delta Omega Chapter.  I was even an officer in my chapter, and received an award for best exemplifying the ideal of Scholarship.  I enjoyed my time with them.

I removed myself from the the chapter however, when I was appointed an officer of the campus lesbian/gay/bi/transgendered/straight student alliance.  I had already experienced prejudice in high school because I’d identified as Bi, when asked.  My reasoning being I hadn’t dated anyone, so wasn’t going to rule anything out until I had reason to.  I didn’t want to make my sorority sisters uncomfortable and chose to leave before they could reject me.  At this time it was not uncommon to send gays to reprogramming camps.  I was all too familiar with those horror stories and would do anything to avoid having to experience them.

I left Utah and moved to Michigan, in October of 1998.  Shortly after moving there, my Aunt R, who I’d managed to get back in touch with (a far longer story), told me that I had family in California and put me in touch with a cousin I hadn’t known I had – L.  Life being what it is, our correspondence would continue in sporadic bursts for the next 13 years.  L knew of my, unconventional beliefs.  Yet, despite what I would come to realize her beliefs and understanding were of what I believed (far different from my actual beliefs) she was always kind to me and treated me with compassion and acceptance.  Never asking me to change or pressing the church on me in any way.

Circumstances conspired in such a way that in the fall of 2011, we wound up talking a great deal more than was usual.  Among other things, I explained better just what it was that I believed at the time.  In a discussion one night of one of the novels I’m working on, I was discussing some of the behind-the-scenes information on the book – what the setting was, what the rules of the universe the book was set in were, how I envisioned things playing out in the story in an overarching sense.  L commented that a part of the of what I was describing was remarkably akin to Mormon doctrine.  Her comment caught me up short.

I was not completely oblivious to Mormon beliefs.  But I had reason to question the validity of some of what I’d been told about doctrine.  However, I’d had no one I trusted to be able to discuss it with.  For one, no one around me was Mormon.  And trying to have such a discussion with anyone who wasn’t – by the time you finished explaining Mormonism 101, you were too tired to launch into your own questionings and likely had even lost the thread of what your original thought had been at the beginning of the discussion.  In short, if you didn’t already understand mormonism, there was no point in even trying to have the conversation.

I had never had reason not to trust L, but the circumstances that lent themselves to our getting to know one another on a far deeper than surface level, had increased my sense of safety.  I tentatively explained that I knew the correlation to mormon doctrine that I thought was veiled in the story.  Certainly no one before her had caughtened on to it.  I asked if she would mind if I occasionally discussed the church and my frustrations and confusions with her.  That I meant no disrespect to the church or her beliefs, but there were things I was unsure about – and I had no one else I felt safe to discuss them with.  She very kindly agreed.

My cousin is a dear woman, one of the kindest I’ve ever known.  She gave me a new way of being able to see the church.  Not only that, she gave me a new way to view being a member of the church.  She redeemed it for me, made it safe again, and even helped me heal and reconcile many of my differences with the church.  This was not a quick process.

A few months of many discussions later, I had not only confessed my secret (that I had still hidden deep within, a small but scared and scarred belief in the church that had not been beaten out of me) but had also started to reread scriptures on my ipad.  A few chapters a day.  The inevitability of these many discussions, that I can not begin to do justice to the otherworldly essence of, culminated in my watching General Conference, and steeling all of my courage to walk back in the doors of my assigned ward on Easter Sunday of last year.

I had never requested my name to be removed from the books.  It took the church a long time to find me after I moved to Michigan – over ten years – but they did.  And when they had, I was assigned a ward and received a handful of mailings from them.  I knew where I was assigned.

Even though I felt at the time, that I was literally risking everything, I felt the need to return to church.  If I felt unwelcome there, so be it, I could choose not to return again.  I prayed that my wife would not leave me for it – a serious fear at the time – and I returned.

The conversations with my cousin didn’t stop with my going back to church.  Heck, even now, while they’ve tapered down a great deal, they haven’t stopped. She’s been one of my biggest supporters and advocates through this journey, and always with the unasked for reassurance that if I couldn’t continue down this path – she would still support and love me 100%.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express just how grateful I am to her for that, among so many other things.

I wasn’t alone in my fears when I returned.  My cousin was very protective and terrified for me, the day I walked back through church doors.  Afraid that someone might be unkind or openly homophobic towards me.  My wife was terrified that my return would lead me to leave her.

All our fears, it turns out, were for naught.  I was more than blessed in the ward I was assigned to.  They have been nothing but accepting and welcoming of me – even of my wife the handful of times she’s attended sacrament meeting or an activity with me.  My wife has not left me, and there is no danger of her leaving me either, nor I leaving her.  Rather, we have in some ways grown even closer, even as we have made some sacrifices for my beliefs.  This Easter Sunday, marked a year from my return to being an active member, and my life has changed in some ways I could never have foreseen and would never have believed.

Indeed, even a year and a half ago I never would have believed any  of the above would have ever happened.  And if you’d told me I’d return to church – I’d have laughed at you.  What a difference a year can make!  It’s been a year of risks, of fear, of courage and of blessings.  And while it’s been far from easy, it’s definitely been worth it.  I’ve become a better person, a more authentic person, for it.  And yes, even though I still get scared, I still push through the fear and more often than not – find the fears were unfounded.

That is the short version of the story, anyway. 🙂

 

 

Too See Yourself Through the Eyes of Another

For about a year or so now, I’ve been following quite a few blogs.  Very notably I’ve been following the blog of Jennifer Pastiloff.  A remarkable woman of profound courage and honesty, a brilliant talent with words, a manifestation yogi, and an inspiration.

In one of her blogs, posted February 23, on Positively Positive, she ended her blog with a request of her readers, her Tribe.  The request seemed an easy one, yet I’ve been unable to face it and actually put words to the page for almost a month now.  Even though the idea of it has haunted my brain on a near daily basis.  Today though, I did.  The request was this:  Please post below a description of yourself or a letter to yourself written in the voice of someone who loves you.

One of the first challenges was to pick which voice to write it in.  My lovely wife would seem an obvious choice, however, I’ve often discounted her words as being biased.  I knew I’d have to write it in the voice of someone that I know I can’t argue with.  Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I haven’t tried.  I am me, after all.  But this is the one person, besides my darling wife, who knows ALL of my secrets – good and bad – and who still found worth in me.  How, I still don’t know, but she did.  The voice of someone who’s helped me on many profound levels and to whom I owe an immense debt of gratitude and love. And while I know I can never fully repay her for all she’s done and does, I still try.

I know she doesn’t follow the same blogs I do, so the chances that she would see the letter I wrote to myself in her voice were beyond microscopic.  So…to thank her, and to let her know that for all my quarrelsome nature, I have indeed been paying attention, and I have been listening…here’s the letter…

Dear Doll,

There have been those in your life who’ve abused and misused you. And instead of getting angry with them, you tried to figure out what you did wrong and took on the blame yourself. It wasn’t your fault, the horrors you endured. If I could wrap you in a quilt and hold you until the memories went away and your self-worth was restored to you I would. One day, you’ll remember your worth and value are infinite. You are enough just the way you are. You are good enough, strong enough, smart enough, kind enough – you are enough – more than enough. You are a lion that’s been told for so long that it’s a sheep, that you’ve forgotten how to roar. Your faith is a beautiful thing to witness, and when it falters, I have faith enough in you to carry you until you find your way again. I will do anything I can to help you remember your worth and who you are, and I will celebrate with you when that day comes. You’ve come so far this past year. Lightyears from where anyone could have ever predicted. And you have so much still ahead of you.

I’ve told you these things before, but I’m not sure they’re sinking in. I think you are a beautiful young woman who is facing many very hard challenges, and I want to help if I can. You are my hero, and you will want to know why…Because of all you have endured and yet you still believe that you matter (even if it’s just a fledgling belief). Because you care about people in the world that you don’t even know – you pay for their groceries behind you in line, you send money to help the kids of a stranger without a second thought just because you found out that they were struggling, you write love letters of encouragement to people you’ve never met and never will. Because you have undying love for your family that you barely know but would do anything for. Because you have a knowledge and insight at age 35 that I am still trying to attain. Because of your ability to see people’s shortcomings and still be nonjudgmental and loving towards them. Because you put everyone before yourself.

You give me strength. You spoil me and at times I don’t know what to do with you! You are exceptionally kind and exceptionally good – even if you don’t see it. I am very thankful to have you in my life. You are too good to be true – at times I’m convinced you’re an angel. And as much as you tell me I don’t have to thank you, the gratitude that swells in me for you and all you’ve done and do – is so immense that I have no words to express it properly. So please, don’t argue with me when I thank you. I’m grateful you’re my family AND my friend. I love you for who you are, for your heart and your immense spirit. Nothing you do can ever change that, and you can’t disappoint me – so stop worrying about that and chase your dreams. I’m proud of you.

I love you as big as the sky.

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Friends are an amazing thing, aren’t they?  They see you and your own special brand of insanity, and they recognize something in it.  They see a little of their own weirdness in you and say – “hey, you’re weird…I LIKE you!”  Given enough time, trust, and adventure – some of these friends even become your family of choice.  They may not be blood, but some of them are closer than blood.

When we’re really lucky we find some of our blood family, who are also our friends, that we find if we got to choose our family, we’d choose them all over again.  And I’ve certainly been extraordinarily lucky.  But you’ve heard me go on about my family already.  So tonight I want to talk about friends.

Not all friends become family of choice, obviously.  We have all kinds of friends usually.  There’s convention friends, work friends, school and childhood friends, university friends, church friends, hobby friends.  You name it you can find a kind of friend for it.  Then there’s the really special friends – the inner circle, the coven, the relatives that the stork goofed on.  And these folks, they’re really truly extraordinary.

Sometimes it’s a development of shared experiences, slowly built over years.  Sometimes it develops almost over night.  And not only can you not imagine your life without these folks in it – you don’t know how you ever made it this long without them in the first place.  They’re kids become your nieces and nephews – even if you have no actual siblings.

They’re there for you when you don’t know which way to turn.  The guard your secrets like their own.  They give you advice – asked for or not – because they care and want to help.  They’ll smack the back of your head and call you a putz (or worse) when you’re being obtuse.  They’ll say “I told you so” even as they throw you a life line and help you put the pieces back together.  And you’ll thank them for it every single time.  And if you’re a good friend, you’ll do the same for them.

Sometimes friendships blow up in spectacular and dramatic ways.  Sometimes they die quietly through gradual persistent neglect.  If we’re truly fortunate, they last.  They last through all the ups and downs, the fights, the heart breaks, the celebrations, the parties.  Through the quiet times, the fears and the follies.  They last, in short, for a lifetime.

I’ve been truly blessed with the friends I have in my life.  And nearly every day I find a new reason, or something happens to remind me anew, just how very lucky I am to have each and every one of them.  How grateful I am for them.  I don’t say it nearly often enough.

So for all my dear friends, thank you.  Thank you for letting me be a part of your life, and for being a part of mine.

And for the special, sacred, inner circle … thank you.  Thank you for being there, for everything you do.  Thank you for adopting me into your family and for letting me Shanghai you into mine. For being my family of the heart and spirit (as well, sometimes, as blood).  Thank you.

Angels and Demons the Following Day…

“One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.” – Doctor Who ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla of holiday. The kids need the requisite cards to hand out to their classmates (yes, even the kid that smells funny, or the one that picks on them…yes even that one kid…you know…the weird one, who’s family is just….strange). Trying to explain to the little ones that everyone needs love. Or the pressures of dating or being solo or married/partnered. When they said they didn’t want a gift…did they really not want one? Or did they secretly want one but not want to have to tell you they wanted one? Or , or? To the point that we lose focus on the really important things in life.

Valentine’s Day, history and Hallmark aside, is meant to be a reminder of one of the greatest gifts humankind has. The capacity to LOVE. Love is a word that has probably one of the broadest ranges of definitions of any word in the English language. It has at least 27 definitions to express everything from a score in a tennis match, a term of endearment, and fondness for objects/activities, an affection for another person (anyone from parent/child, friend, to the intensity of romantic/sexual partners), the act of intimate relations, even a feeling used to relate the fondness of deity for it’s creation! It can be conditional. It can be unconditional. It can be short or last a lifetime. It can be returned or not. So why do we limit our focus in February so narrowly? Why celebrate only romantic love?

Sure, in it’s best form, romantic love is meant to embrace and embody a perfect union of (at least) two souls – in an unconditional, life long, enduring, passionate affection. But how many of us these days can honestly say to have found that ideal? How many of us compromise? How many of us are afraid to give of ourselves that completely – thinking it will never be returned as fully? How many of us limit our capacity and definition of love? Why? How often do you say “I love you” because you don’t know what else to say? Or because someone said it to you and you don’t want them to feel bad? Or even without really thinking about it because it’s just become so much habit – like saying “hello”?

Love can be so much more than we allow it to be. Rather than getting caught up in all the circus, why not spend some time to really think about those people in your life that you truly love? In all their varied forms and roles. The friend that you haven’t spoken to in years, because life gets busy, but you know if you called them on the phone right this minute crying they would immediately drop everything for you. The sister/brother of the heart – even if the stork did get lost and make the delivery at a different house. The people in your family, who would be there for you no matter what – even to tell you the things you don’t want to hear when you really need to hear them. Your partner/spouse. Your kids. Your parents. Anyone who can lay even the smallest claim on having a place in your heart.

I’m not saying all these relationships are perfect, of course they’re not. We’re all human and therefore all fallible. But what if we tried just a little bit harder? If we gave just a little bit more? What if we treated even a total stranger as we would those we hold most dear? How would that change the world? What if we treated ourselves with the same love that we give others? How would that change our own happiness? (Or if you’re really good at self love – treat others with the same love your show yourself. How would that change how they feel? How would it change how you feel?)

No matter our circumstance or personal histories, everyone knows and experiences what it feels like to be unloved. If you’re really lucky and fortunate, you only have to feel it once. Maybe a first crush that wasn’t returned. If you’re less lucky, you know other ways in which the absence of love can prick and sting even the seemingly hardest of hearts. But the presence of love, can be just as powerful. It can melt through the coldest walls of self protection a person can raise. Applied persistently and with care, it can create miracles. Love makes us feel good. It makes us happy, more positive, and healthier. So it makes sense that a person lacking such feeling would be more negative, sad. It’s been proven that going long enough without love can even cause death.

Love can make us do stupid and embarrassing things, sure. It can also bring out that which is the best inside of us. We are moved to sacrifice and endure for others, what we would never do – even for ourselves. As stated so aptly above in the Dr. Who quote “One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.” Who would you tolerate a world of demons for? For who in your life, would you be willing to face down the bowels of hell itself? Who is the first person you think of when you wake? Who is the last person you think of as you drift into sleep? Who, at the merest thought of, can make you smile and instantly make your day better? Who knows the one thing that can always make you laugh? Who is the guardian of your secrets and will take them to the grave for you? Who never leaves, even when you’re not very lovable? Who prods, cajoles, gives you crap – because they want to see you succeed at be your best?

There are no right or wrong answers here. You may have a different person for each of those questions. You may have a small handful. You may have just one person. Whatever the case may be, I challenge you to do something this month for anyone that comes to your mind in answer to any of these questions. Send a postcard, give an unexpected hug, just listen when they need to vent. Something, anything, to show that they’re important to you and that you appreciate them. In other words – show them some love. You may be one of many that love them, or you may be the only person in the world that loves them. Does it really matter? To them it will. Who doesn’t like knowing that they matter to someone – even a little.

Try showing even a stranger a little love. I promise you it makes a difference. Whether it’s picking up the tab for someone behind you in line at 7 Eleven, helping someone with their bags at the grocery store when you see they’re overwhelmed, leaving an anonymous letter somewhere for someone to find that simply says “You’re Great!” The smallest things can have such far reaching effects – we can all make a difference. And here’s a secret: Helping someone you don’t even know – can even help make you feel happier! Where can you start to make a difference? Where can you take an extra five seconds to give a stranger a smile or hold a door for someone who’s hands are full? Who can you cheer up? Where can you spread a little more kindness, a little more softness, a little more love in the world? Where can your presence lend a little more grace and goodness to the world?

Sometimes, the biggest thing we can do to lift another, is letting them help us. Is there somewhere in your life, that you could let someone help you? It can take a little stress off of you, it makes them feel trusted and important, and can make both of you happy. When someone offers help, instead of declining out of hand, think about it. Would helping you help them too? Do they maybe just want to be able to be a part of your life for a few minutes more? Do they maybe feel unnecessary or unwanted? Saying yes, might change that.

It’s not always about what you do or don’t do. It’s about how our actions and words affect others, from those who are most important to us to the stranger we pass without even noticing. It’s not always the big things we do that make an impact on people. It’s not the once a year charitable donation. It’s not looking good at church on Sunday. It’s choosing to be kind instead of first. It’s choosing to help instead of hustling by. It’s living as though every thing you do matters. Because it does. Small everyday things often times have the biggest impact. Some of the things you do that may have the biggest effect on the life of another, may be things you never hear about or even gave a second thought to.

Applying love to our life, in all it’s wonderful and varied forms, should not be something for just one or a handful of days a year. It should be something we live and breathe everyday. Where can living and breathing love improve your life and the lives of those you care about? How can we start seeing more angels and fewer demons?

An Attitude of Thankfulness

Most of us count New Years’s from January to January. Some even count it from Halloween to Halloween or February to February. Since Thanksgiving of last year however, my life has been going through some definite upheavals, changes and drastic sudden turns. Not a one would I have even guessed at or ever predicted. So, I couldn’t help but look back this Thanksgiving at how different my life is this year, from where it was at this time last year.

I have found myself rather overwhelmed when I stop to think about all the myriad blessing in my life. The people and experiences that I am grateful for. I’ve often heard people talk about how they take family for granted. This has never ceased to baffle me. Growing up, I had no family surrounding me – other than my mother and godmother. No aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents or any of that kind of thing. So, I have trouble understanding why people can so easily forget, neglect, or discard their families. I did find my family in my late teens. Or rather, they found me. My aunt tracked us down when I was about 17 – I hadn’t even known about her.

Slowly over the years, my once tiny little family has gone through growth spurts – as new aunts, uncles and cousins are found – and their families – and so on. From 2 to 20 something to I’ve lost count now! This past year has seen another such growth spurt. Another aunt that wasn’t known. But even more than that, it’s seen a growth in the real development of relationships between family members. An only child, I was never quite sure what to do with…family. All these strange people – some shared my last name, some didn’t, and the eeriness of seeing similarities in facial expressions and little hand gestures or the particular way of turning a phrase. These are things that are considered among the joys and comforts and reassurance that family is to most people. But for me, it was not just a little frightening, and took a lot of getting used to.

Having the questionable luxury of living far from any of my relatives, granted me the ability to take as long as I wanted or needed to really get to know any of them. And for a long time, not knowing what to do with them, I’d send the obligatory holiday and birthday card, maybe speak on the phone once or twice a year. Even email was sporadic at best, and usually short, because I had no idea what to even say to the strangers, as kind hearted and welcoming as they were. This went on for the better portion of 15 or 16 more years. Ok, so I can be a very slow learner, especially when I’m scared or completely out of my depth. And in this situation I was both.

This past year, I finally took a leap of faith, in more ways than one, and reached out and really got to know a few of these wonderful people that I get to call family. I even got to visit my dear cousin at her charming inn in California, with plans to visit again, and have a chance to visit with an aunt coming up quite soon as well. And while I’ve no doubt my hesitancies and fumbles along the way probably both frustrated and humored them, they were more than patient and kind for me. When I would express appreciation for this to them or to my friends, I’d be met with baffled looks. The unanimous response of “but that’s what family does” was heard often.

So here’s my two cents of advice that I want to offer on Thanksgiving. Take it for what you will. Families are a very precious gift. And sure, some you’ll like more than others, some you’ll be closer to than others. But if what I’ve discovered is so very common as I’ve been lead to believe by those who’re used to what family is and how family act. The amazing love they’re capable of showing as well as the depth of empathy, support and compassion. Don’t ever waste it, or take it for granted. I promise you, there are people out there, who never get to experience that kind of warmth. Treasure it for the blessing and gift that it truly is.

Coco Mingolelli

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