No Shave November… A Hairy Situation…

Some of you may know that I’m participating in No-Shave November.  What a good number of you don’t know is that my face has been growing a beard/goatee since around the age of 10.  No, I’m not talking about just a few random chin hairs here or there.

I’ve spent the vast portion of my life — over 30 years — trying all sorts of ways to rid myself of the hair that I have been repeatedly shamed for having.  At first, I was dragged to dermatologists, and given blood tests. The results of the blood tests were a big fat Nope.

There was no evidence of PCOS, and my hormone levels showed up the way they were expected to be.  Those avenues drying up, the never ending search for hair removers began: depilatories, waxing, sugaring, shaving, and finally electrolysis, which was costly and painful on the first treatment, and ineffective by the second. At worst, I had painful scaring and burning and it grew back within days.  At best, it still grew back within days.

By this time though, I had already learned that my body (and especially hair,) was something that “should” always be hidden from others because it was grotesque. Did I mention I’m terribly short – not even 5’ tall? So began the jeers of ‘ewok’, ‘Cousin It’, ‘Hobbit’, ‘Dwarf’, ‘mini Sasquatch,’ and the like. It’s no wonder that I wouldn’t leave the house or let myself be seen, even by family, until after I’d managed to shower and shave.   Those taunts stung more than I ever let show.

It almost became a compulsion — the need to eliminate any body hair.  I’d resorted to shaving because nothing else worked. Electrolysis hurt. Waxing was back within a day and not the promised week. Sugaring was ineffective. Depilatories left me with chemical burns on my skin, and the hair still standing proud.  I remember how proud my mother was one day when the shaving went extreme and I did a swimmer’s shave. She exclaimed that my arms “looked so much cleaner!” simply because the hair was gone.

So, I gave up and just shaved.  And shaved. And shaved. Every day.  Without exception.

As I grew older, things didn’t improve.  Having partners who found body hair repulsive didn’t help the matter. One ex-girlfriend asked me if I was trans because of the facial hair, or had ever considered being trans. To have someone tell me that my body was not only unacceptable but wasn’t even the right one for me left me dumbfounded, especially as I’d never expressed any discontent with what actual body parts I have.  I quite like my breasts and other girly bits, thank you.  I didn’t know what to say, other than “No,” and trying to change the subject.  Some partners requested that I shave in specific ways for specific body parts.  I even endured the mortification of a girlfriend after a morning tryst, saying that I had given her beard burn.

I wanted to simply cease existing at that moment.

As time passed and partners came and went, I still wouldn’t leave the house without shaving. If I absolutely had to, I would try everything to hide my chin. It took me until a few years ago to build enough confidence to make a quick run to the corner store without shaving first.  Even then, I would hide my chin in my shirt collar.

In the past year or so, I’ve been forced to face this issue more and more.  Seeing articles about women like Sikh Harnaam Kaur from the UK pop up across the internet, I wished that I had that kind of courage and strength to be able to be comfortable in my own body the way that it is.

I can look at women like Ms. Kaur and see how beautiful she is.  But, I can’t look in the mirror without hearing the echo in my head of all the past taunts and shaming.  At times, it’s overwhelming.

The fact is, this is something that I’m still struggling with and even at times reduced to tears over it at the age of 38, and it feels ridiculous.  I feel that by this point in my life, I shouldn’t be having these kinds of arguments with myself anymore. Yet, here I am. Participating in No Shave November has been more than a little daunting for me as I grapple with internal guilt and shame over my appearance, along with the reactions of other people to my appearance.

My wife, bless her heart, is one of my biggest supporters.  She’s known for years the anxiety and hell that this particular issue creates for me, and has tried for over 10 years to get me to relax about it. Sometimes, she even begs me to let it grow.  Admittedly, she’s struggled to understand why it bothered me so much.  She thought it was different and therefore ‘cool’.  When I tried to explain not enjoying the taunts of being the ‘bearded lady’ or a ‘freakshow,’ she didn’t believe it would happen, no matter how many times I explained that it already had.

It’s been a week now since I last shaved… and there’s no possibility of hiding it.

7 days

Life doesn’t slow down or stop just because I’m uncomfortable.  I’ve gone out of my home – to attend church, to go to VA Hospital appointments, to run errands, and even going out to eat with my wife.  I’ve watched as people have struggled more and more to try not to stare as each day goes by; the way they seek to avoid looking at the lower half of my face, or to try to avoid looking at me altogether.  I’ve watched my wife’s face crumble as she watched me do my best to act unaffected by all the body language that spoke of how unacceptable my appearance was, even though most people remained silent.  One person found out why my chin was hairy for charity, the first words out of her mouth were “Does it bother you yet?”

As long as I don’t leave my house… no, I’m not bothered.  But the minute I do and face the condemnation that comes my way for being different… yes, I’m bothered a great deal.  I know why No-Shave November is such an exercise — it forces those participating and those observing to feel a similar pain that cancer patients who have lost their hair feel. It doesn’t matter if you have too much hair, or not enough – the world is plenty cruel.

I know that the reactions are only going to get stronger, more obvious, and more outspoken as the month goes on, so I’ve decided to be proactive about it.  I’ve made a button that says “Go ahead, it’s ok… ask me why I’m so hairy,” and business cards that talk about No-Shave November. On them, there is a link to my No-Shave November fundraising page, encouraging them to donate.  The way I see it, if people can try to make anyone feel uncomfortable for something that is just a part of who they are, then I can make them uncomfortable right back.  That’s how this ingeniously crafted conversation begins.

In Which I Break My Own Rule…

Given the admittedly volatile nature of the internet, I have a rule that I have tried to keep – whether in my blog or on various social media.  That rule is that I will NOT discuss politics.  I have so many friends from so many different and varied paths in life and respect them all and the diversity they bring to my life.  Even when I disagree with them, I pretty much just let it go.  They have every right to their opinion as I do.  And I respect them enough to remember that every experience a person goes through molds and shapes them into who they are today.  I can’t say that if I had lived their life, I wouldn’t view the world around me the same way.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve heard a lot of arguments from a lot of sources over Marriage Equality.  And I just can’t take it anymore.  So if you want to know what I think..read on – and pay attention because I’m only going to say this once!  If you’d be just as happy not knowing… here’s a cute picture of a kitten to squee over:  adorable kittens in 3..2..1…

I’ve heard two main arguments against Marriage Equality:

1.  “But it oppresses my religious rights because the Bible and my ‘insert religious leader’ told me all the gays are evil!”

2. “Marriage is ONLY for procreation.”

Ok, so lets go with the second argument first shall we?  Marriage is not solely for the purposes of procreation.  If it were, then couples where one or both parties are infertile (due to age, medical condition, result of injury, happenstance of genetics, whatever the cause) would not be granted a marriage license.  Also, couples who have exceeded the age of being able to reproduce (or lost the ability to any number of causes) would see their marriages dissolved immediately.  We don’t do that.  So can we please finally leave this argument in the dust of it’s hollow grave?

Now onto the questionably trickier argument.  Allowing LGBTQI individuals the right to a civil(LEGAL) marriage, is NOT going to oppress your religious freedoms.  No one is going to force any church or religious entity to perform or even recognize such a marriage.  After all, there are plenty of religions that already DO perform such unions happily – no one has to force those who don’t want to, to do so.

There is not a single “holy book” that has come handed intact directly from the hands of whatever Diety that you choose to worship that has not passed through the hands of hundreds and even thousands of very human, very fallible, human beings!  By that very progress – got news for you, it’s flawed!  There are mistakes.  Anything produced by human hands will have them.  It’s a fact of life.

But the fact remains, that even if there WERE such a miraculous book, the point is moot.  You see in the USA we have this lovely document called the Constitution of the United States of America.  The first 10 amendments to this document are called the Bill of Rights.  The First Amendment ratified in 1791 reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

For anyone that needs a refresher – this means that there is no official religion of the United States of America.  We allow the free exercise of every religion with none held above another.  That means that EVERY religion – whether it is yours or not, whether you agree with it or not – is allowed to be practiced without interference.  That means that if your religion doesn’t perform gay marriages – guess what?  That’s OK!  BUT… it also means that if another church, of another religion down the road DOES – guess what?  That’s also OK!

Marriage Equality is not a battle to force churches to perform gay marriages.  Really, folks, it’s not.  It’s about a civil, legal, document that allows two people to enter into a contract to spend the rest of their lives together – that gives rights of survivorship to the one who outlives the other, grants the rights and abilities to visit each other in the hospital and make decisions for each other.

Marriage is not a SOLELY religious rite.  It isn’t!  If it were, then Athiests would not be allowed to marry.  And guess what folks – they do!

The LGBTQI community that is asking for Marriage Equality doesn’t want to storm your church.  They want to be granted the same rights and responsibilities under the recognition of the government of the land separate from the control of any one specific religion.  That’s it.

And for those who may see me in church and feel conflicted about what I’ve said here… I’d like to remind you of a few things that might help you work your way around it:

The 11th Article of Faith states:  We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

(in other words – you don’t get to claim that what you believe has more legal rights than what anyone else believes – no matter how differently they believe)

The 12th Article of Faith states: We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

(Please see the First Amendment of the US Constitution contained in the Bill of Rights – the US has no official state religion – all religions are granted equal rights to practice – LDS and Pagan and Muslim and even Pastafarian!)

The 9th Article of Faith states: We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

(never make the mistake of thinking  you know absolutely everything there is to know about everything – I can promise you, if you do, you’ll be wrong)

D&C 134:9 states: We do not believe it just to  mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

(Please don’t forget in your passion to see your beliefs put into law, that in doing so you may step on the rights and beliefs of your neighbors who do not believe as you do.  Religious law and Civil laws should remain separate.)

So the next time you consider the arguments about Marriage Equality, I challenge you to view the issues with compassion.  Compassion for those who simply want to protect a love that means more to them than life itself.  Ultimately folks, it’s about love.  Not religion.  Just… LOVE.

My body is amazing.

This woman’s body isn’t the only thing that is amazing.  Her courage, her voice, her strength, her intellect…just HER.

Reblogging from Villainy Loveless…

My body is amazing..

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

An Open Love Letter…

Some of the folks close to me know about a special work that I participate in every month.  I don’t talk about it a great deal.  A few months ago I learned about More Love Letters.  It’s a project to send more love letters out into the world.  Not the sappy kind you wrote to your first crush back in grade school, but the uplifting, encouraging kind.  Written anonymously and left either for a person to find in some public venue, or gathered for love letter bundles to be mailed to a person that such letters have been requested for.  I’ve been participating since I first learned about it.  And an interesting thing has happened…I’ve found that writing these letters has helped make me a more compassionate, thoughtful.  It’s helped to make me a better person.

At times like now, it’s hard not to walk around with a feeling of melancholy.  Maybe to even fight not to lose your faith that humanity has value.  I know I certainly do.  But being negative – doesn’t help anyone.  One cliché that I have found proven true time and again in my life…is that if you want to feel better…help someone else.  And while I certainly try my best to help those I know, and a fair number of people I don’t know, I thought that right now might be a good time to try and stretch that a little more…by writing an open love letter to anyone who might need one right now.  And so, if you’re reading this…this is for YOU.

 

Dear Darling One,

I can’t begin to imagine what you might be going through right now.  The trials and struggles that we all have to face that are utterly unique to each one of us.  One thing I do know, and want you to know – is that what ever you may be facing…you are not alone.  It feels like it sometimes.  It can be hard to reach out.  But I can promise you.  You are not alone.  There are people around you who love you.  Who want you to succeed.  Who would love a chance to support and help you conquer whatever you are facing.

It’s easy to feel alone.  To cut yourself off thinking that others would never, could never understand.  But I promise, there are those that do.  You are never alone, but your thinking makes it so.  It’s ok if you’re scared.  It’s ok if you’re confused.  It’s ok if you’re hurting.  You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t have to have it all together.  All you have to do, is take a deep breath and reach out.  You can do it.  I can’t promise it’ll be easy – it probably won’t.  I can’t promise it won’t terrify you – it might.  I can promise, it’ll be worth it.  I can promise this, because I’ve been there.  Sometimes I still am.  But I have learned that it is ALWAYS worth it.  Go through the pain, through the fear, through all of it…and connect.  It’s always worth it.

You are a beautiful person.  You have so much going for you – more that you can even realize.  And we need you.  This whole crazy messed up world, needs YOU.  There is only one person who can be the unique mix of crazy, beautiful, talented, wonderful being that you are.  You can not and will not ever be duplicated.  So please, share your talent with us. Share your crazy, your beautiful.  Share the uniqueness that only you can give.  We’re all waiting just to cheer you on.

Love,

C

 

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.

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