Day 293/365 Fear is a Needy Neighbor, Maybe I Should Fix Her Up

When you have dealt with fear a lot over a short period of time, there are some benefits – the biggest one being, it is not an unfamiliar sensation. You don’t have to go through that, “Oh shit, what is this feeling? inner dialogue.  You know...and you usually understand why it is being revealed in a particular moment or circumstance.

For those of us who have made its acquaintance somewhat regularly, fear becomes a bit like a needy neighbor with a penchant for “pop ins”.  We didn’t invite her over, but it is the compassionate thing to do to invite her in, to see if we can’t ease her suffering in some way. Sometimes just giving her that little bit of attention is all she needs. Other times she camps out on the couch for so long we’re afraid she’ll never leave…and boy does she ramble on and on.

My own needy neighbor doesn’t seem to do this much anymore – the camping out, that is. It helps that she doesn’t need to keep reintroducing herself. I know her pretty well, and she’s not all bad.  She does usually bring with her wine and desserts, and she spurs some interesting self-reflection, so I mean…she tries to be a good guest.

The other day my needy neighbor showed up unexpectedly (as she is want to do). It seemed like she was making herself pretty comfortable on my couch, when I grew bored with her chatter and decided to distract myself with a book. I picked one up, flipped through it and read this passage…

“When gripped by fear or anxiety, the reflex is to hold on, speed up, or remove oneself. Yet when we feel the reflex to hold on, that is usually the moment we need to let go. When we feel the urgency to speed up, that is typically the instant we need to slow down. Often when we feel the impulse to flee, it is the opportunity to face ourselves.” – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I don’t know about you but I can think of so many times in my life when I reacted to fear and anxiety by doing all of those things – holding on, speeding up, or removing myself. 

I know for a while I hung on to my marriage out of fear. I labelled it loyalty or commitment…but I see now that it was just my old friend, fear. I did not want to face myself. I did not want to hear myself silently screaming that I didn’t want to be there anymore…telling me that being afraid wasn’t a reason to stay.

What was I afraid of?

I was afraid of being seen as a failure, afraid of emotionally damaging my children, afraid of not being able to support myself, afraid of starting over.

Unfortunately being steeped in feelings of fear within a relationship creates a pattern – a conditioned response. Do you remember, I wrote a while back about creating an account on a dating site? How I panicked when I was asked to describe myself? I couldn’t go through with it. The only man I have allowed myself to want is someone who would never let me close. I hid there in plain sight – emotionally unavailable on account of wanting someone who is emotionally unavailable.

How clever of me.

What am I afraid of?

I am afraid of making the same mistakes. I am afraid of thinking I know someone and finding out I don’t. I’m afraid of rejection. I am afraid of that cold, painful purgatory we find ourselves in when love is replaced by obligation, and bitterness is all we can taste on our tongues.

Fear knocks on my door whenever I even think about risking myself in this way. She really considers herself to be an expert on the topic of love. She has twisted love and fear up in my head so insidiously that I almost believe they are the same.

But I know something she doesn’t.

I know that when the right person arrives, I’ll muster the courage to introduce him to her (it’s only polite, after all). I suspect he’ll make an introduction of his own – his fear, to me. Perhaps his fear and mine will keep each other company, and they will be less likely to pop in on us unexpectedly, and…

When they do show up…

I hope we will try – to let go when the urge is to hold tightly, to slow down when the urge is to speed up, and to stay…when the impulse is to flee.

To use our fear as an opportunity to face ourselves, together. 

Artwork Foraged and Photographed by Meredith Brower Photography.

Available at www.630photo.etsy.com and at The Power of Juice.

Day 135/365 An Invitation

I was listening to Glennon Doyle speak the other day. Glennon is a New York Times best-selling author, and a general lover of…humanity. She inspires me often. She spoke about what we can do when things are happening in the world that we know are wrong. She was inspired to speak about this after the recent ban on transgender people in the armed forces.

I am paraphrasing here, but essentially she said when we recognize that something is wrong in the world, when something really riles us and makes us upset, we can do one of three things. We can rail against it (fight), we can run and hide (flight) or we can “offer another invitation.”

I love that – Offer another invitation.

The invitation she spoke of was to be leaders ourselves.  She called it the Kitchen Table Resistance. We can lead by example – by speaking up against discrimination when we hear it, whether it be at our own kitchen table, in church, or out in our communities. Our children are listening. They want to know what we think, and silence is as powerful as agreement.

We must lend our voice.

To be fair, I have been. I have been supportive of gay and transgender rights – of human rights, but I have the opportunity to add my voice to this conversation in a different and more meaningful way.

I can bring my own personal experience to the table.

You see, my ex-husband, the father of my children, is transgender.

While he is biologically a man – in his heart, mind and soul, he is a woman.

He revealed this to me over a year ago. We had spent the day together, celebrating the seventh birthday of our youngest daughter.  Later that night, he sent me a text that shocked me. It was 10:30pm on a Saturday night, and I happened to be cozy on my couch…with a date.

When I saw a text from my ex come through, I explained to my date that I had to look at it in case it was an emergency with my kids. He watched as I exchanged a flurry of texts with my ex.

I then placed the phone down on the coffee table, and sat in silence.

“Are your kids okay?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Are YOU okay? You look like you’re in shock.”

“That’s probably accurate.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Nope.”

(What a truly unforgettable date that was, let me tell you!)


Since then I have been marched through a parade of complicated emotions.

However, my initial impulse, and the default setting to which I keep returning, is that of love, compassion, and to an extent – fixing. Not fixing in the sense that I am trying to change him, but fixing in the sense that I want everything to be okay.

“It is going to be okay,” I texted to him that first night. “We will be okay.”

We have since had some good talks (I’d say, perhaps some of our best), during which I ask lots of questions. He answers them all. Sometimes I say the wrong thing and he corrects me. I learn.

So far he has continued to use his birth name, and will continue to use male pronouns. Over time his clothing has become more and more feminine, though he has held off on making any drastic changes. He has been easing us into it. We’ve seen a therapist to learn how and when to talk to our children about his gender identity (which we have done, and which we will continue to offer as an open conversation).

Our children, by the way, are just fine. They have nothing but pure love for their dad (yes, we still call him that, for now anyway). They see him as nothing short of amazing, and my biggest fear to date is the crushing effect it may have on them to find out that not everyone is as accepting of him as we are.

So do we wait for the world to dim their rose-colored glasses?

Or do we take on the formidable task of challenging the world to be better?

The latter – oh, yes please, the latter.

A Course in Miracles teaches – The obstacle to love is not hate, the obstacle to love is fear. In Glennon’s talk, she said, “Fear can’t handle proximity.”

We must draw each other closer.

The more we really see one another and listen to one another’s stories, the less we fear what is “different” and the more easily we can recognize our common humanity.

I realized I can quietly watch as fear continues to control the minds and hearts of many, or I can use my voice here to be a part of a conversation that may begin to shift things. I talked with my ex about using this blog platform to do just that –  to open up a conversation…or as Glennon would say,

Offer another invitation.

Perhaps we can help someone.

I have so much compassion for family members who may be struggling with what can feel like a death, as they watch the person they know and love seemingly disappear before their eyes.

A few weeks after my ex revealed his true self to me, I had to attend a memorial service for my father’s cousin. We weren’t close but he was a lovely man and it was important to me to go.  The service was at the same church where I had been married, twelve years prior (it honestly never entered my mind that this would be a problem).  It is about an hour’s drive from my house, and as I got within a mile of the church, the grief hit me like a brick wall. I had this overwhelming feeling that the man I married had died….because in some ways, to me he had. I pulled the car over and sobbed uncontrollably. I never made it to the service. I just couldn’t do it.

So I am telling you – If you are going through this – I know it’s hard. I understand.

Over a year has passed now, and I have had time to process things. So perhaps you will trust me when I tell you that your loved one hasn’t died.

The person who they fundamentally are insidethat person is the same as they always were. My ex still makes me laugh like no one else, and he also has the ability to frustrate the hell out of me – regardless of whether he’s wearing men’s loafers or women’s strappy heels. Same laughter, same frustration. Same person.

Draw them closer.

If you look your loved one in the eyes, I promise you will see them there, plain as day – same as before. 

I know your fear comes from a place of love. You are afraid of how your loved one will be received by the world. You’re afraid they will be teased, discriminated against, or even physically harmed. Maybe you feel embarrassed, and confused.

It’s okay to feel all of those things. 

You deserve the same compassion that your loved one does.

This is hard. I understand.

Please listen –

Your loved one wants you to ask questions (as long as they are born of a desire to truly understand). 

Everyone wants to be understood.

Everyone.

Draw them closer.

If I can help, let me know.

There is always room at my kitchen table.

Day 60/365 Lynette

“I don’t think we’re crazy, I think we’re canaries.”

It’s a line from the book “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton.  “…there were deadly, invisible toxins in the mines, but the miners’ bodies weren’t sensitive enough to register the poison. So they carried a canary in a cage down into the mines with them sometimes.  The canaries body was built to be sensitive to the toxins, so the canary became their lifeguard.  When the toxin level got too high, the canary stopped singing, and the silence was the miners’ signal to flee the mine.” 

“I don’t think we’re crazy, I think we’re canaries.”

img_2843This is my cousin (sister), Lynette.  When I think of this analogy of the highly sensitive and intuitive soul, I think of her. Lynette is a canary. She sings her song without ever opening her mouth – you see it in her eyes and in her smile.

Sometimes she stops singing, but only because she feels it all so strongly – all the invisible toxins that surround us.  They can become too heavy for her tender heart.

Oh, but don’t be fooled. She is strong, too. She is a bad ass canary.  A world traveling canary.  A Machu Picchu climbing canary.

I asked her the other day how many countries she has been to and she said she wasn’t sure – she’d have to think about it.  She said this not in a bragging way, but just – I saw her start to count on her fingers and then she got distracted before she could find the answer. It’s that many.

Eyes are the windows to the soul, and you could swim in the depths of hers (though I warn you, prolonged eye contact is a pet peeve).

To me, she is the personification of warmth. She is the type of person who goes out of her way to make people feel comfortable and important – from her elementary school students to the Uber driver to…to everyone.

She listens. Really listens. In a world in which doing so is extraordinary.

If you are lucky enough to be loved by Lynette, she will move mountains for you. When she can’t do anything to help, she will call or text you every single day to let you know she’s thinking of you – that she’s there, in the mine with you.

Oh, and did I mention she is pee-your-pants funny?  Yeah, that too.

To me, she is perfect, and she sings the most beautiful song.

(Editor’s note: Singing might be the one thing she isn’t actually good at. It’s a metaphor, you guys.)

I love you so much, Lynette.