What makes someone hard to love? What do we do about it?

What makes someone easy to love? What makes someone hard to love?

Which am I?

I’ve prayed for my Ann and our kids for many years now. I ache at the life we don’t live because of me. I keep telling Ann that she should ask for a refund. She just smiles and says “It is what it is.”

What does that say about Ann?

A lot.

So often we spend time worrying about the way we think things should be. I know that I do. By this point I was going to be a big wig with a fantastic salary and we would have the freedom to go and do whatever we wanted.

That was the plan.

That is not at all the way things have worked out.

So, what is Ann saying when she smiles at me and tells me “It is what it is”?

Is she being complacent? Has she given up and resigned herself to a difficult life?

No.

She is saying “Let’s take what we have and build from there.”

This little equation works really well when all parties involved have thrown their entire hand in and are giving it everything they have.

But what if not everyone is willing to abandon the safety of self and will only give a portion?

I’m afraid that this is more of the norm; the entire team going for broke the exception.

What do you do when it is simply hard to love someone who doesn’t seem to reciprocate?

Being the question asker that I am, I think there are some important thoughts to understand before moving on:

Why have I chosen to love this person?

What is the cause of their reticence?

How hard are they working to overcome that which prevents them from loving me completely?

Do I love them enough to keep going anyway?

I would imagine that each person reading this would have different answers to these questions. That is as it should be. Love is individual and unique and deeply personal.

There are many things that could make it more difficult to love someone.

I know that it is hard to love a person with mental illness. Our reality is so different from what the rest of the world deems “normal.” I find myself telling Ann that I’m sure my way is the right way and what everyone else is doing is not “normal.” She just smiles in that way that tells me that I’m wrong but she loves me anyway.

Don’t you wonder why she loves me anyway?

I behave in ways that would make it hard to love me. Lots of drama and not enough support.

Yet, the power that heals me the most is her love. The love that I don’t deserve, but I really, really need.

Knowing that, it changes how I see her. I’m now really interested in a few questions of my own:

Why have I chosen to love her?

How does she need to receive my expressions of love?

What do I need to change about my behavior that will make her life better?

Do I love her enough to keep going anyway?

And a miracle starts to take shape.

Part of my healing is putting my mental illness into perspective and learning to focus on what others around me need.

Maybe I only had half of the equation before. I knew that I needed her love to help me heal.

Now I know that I need to truly love her to help me heal the rest of the way.

So instead of each of us asking a different set of questions, now we can join hands and ask ourselves the same questions:

Why have we chosen to love each other?

Are we willing to fight with all we have to help this love continue to grow?

Is there anything that would make us stop?

Instead of there being one who is easy to love and one who is hard to love, now we have stepped over to the same side of the fence. We look outwardly in the same direction. It may be a little easier for her to love me, the difficult one. And my capacity to love her, the easy one, has become a real power that changes how I behave and what I focus on.

Kind of simple, really.

We are being changed through love.

And now “It is what it is” is something that we can both say with a smile.

No regrets.

We know how to build from here, together.

What if I don’t want to be the way I am?

I’m one of those people who, after an experience with others is over, will take time to go back through the exchange and evaluate how things went. More often than not, I cringe at things I said or did and really want to call out for a “do-over.”

Of course, it is too late.

Most people would find it pretty annoying to get a call from me where I tell them “Here is what I should have said.” They have moved on already. I probably need to too.disagree

What are these little mannerisms or characteristics that scream for “do-overs”? They are things about me that I wish were different. It makes me wonder what is the composite picture of me that others see?

Really, what makes me, well, me?

Continue reading What if I don’t want to be the way I am?

Can saints and sinners live together in peace? Wait, which one am I?

America. The land of opportunity and freedom. Unlike any other country in the world.

I consider it a true blessing to have been born here, to have grown up here, and to live here now. Even with reading all the reports and seeing all the news stories of life outside the United States, I don’t think I can really comprehend completely just how good it is to be here.

Sure, there are problems. There are some things that are breaking down. There are some things that are broken. And we must fix them.

Why?

Because this is a country unlike any other in the world.

We experience freedom; freedom that is fought for and defended in many ways. Soldiers have died, and others have probably wished they had died after going through what they have gone through.

The draft was in force when I turned 18. I remember my father saying that he prayed fervently that we would not go to war while I was of age. I didn’t really understand it until I had children of my own, but as a father, I understand that same fear.

Being involved in combat can only be described as incredibly hard – hard to leave home and fight, hard to survive, hard to try to come back, hard to continue on in life as a “regular” person.

I can’t imagine it. I simply can’t imagine how hard it would be.

While thinking about this, I have been struck lately with the formation of battlefields here within our own borders. These are battles not fought with bullets or missiles or drones. They are fought with words and ideas and beliefs.

I think that the damage from these wars on the home front can be, will be, greater than the horrific and bloody battles in foreign lands.

We aren’t just trying to kill each other’s bodies with bullets. We are trying to kill each other’s freedom with laws.

The pen really is mightier than the sword.

Here is the reality: This is a country filled with people who are very different from each other. Different thoughts and ideas, different words and beliefs, different visions of just how America should be.

But, (and I think we find this hard to believe), it is just as much their country as it is mine; it is just as much mine as it is theirs.

So how do we figure out the way that everyone is afforded the right to worship or not worship according to their own deeply held beliefs? How do we encourage people to grow in all these different directions while keeping a set of laws that we all must follow that doesn’t stunt that growth?

Let the battle begin.

Choose your side. Dig in. Find out everything bad you can about the enemy, because that is exactly what they are: The Enemy. All hands on deck as we do our best to get rid of this nasty little element that thinks so differently.

What is interesting is that there can be people found on both sides who are thinking and behaving this way. Nobody is really an innocent bystander here.

Can saints and sinners live together? Well, maybe we need to clarify who are the saints and who are the sinners.

Again, I would think that each side would claim that of being right and the other side is clearly in the wrong. Righteous indignation at these close minded, bigoted, heathens who are destroying us.

Everybody step back and take a breath.

Let’s define the sides:

What is a saint?

I’ve always been taught that a saint isn’t someone who is perfect and, well, dead. A saint is someone who is really trying hard to do their very best. Someone who lives in love rather than anger. Someone who is really focused on others rather than themselves.

I know many, many people who would qualify as a saint under that definition. They make my life better in countless ways.

What is a sinner?

Isn’t a sinner someone who isn’t perfect? Someone who has something that they still struggle with and haven’t overcome? Someone who is still working on changing and growing and becoming?

Put me down in this category, for sure. If we are honest with ourselves, we probably all fit really well here.
Wait a minute though. Can we only fit in one of the two categories? Do we somehow have to be either saint or sinner?

I know I am a sinner. But I am also working pretty hard at doing my best and being a loving person.

Can I be both?

Can there be many, many, many people out there who are both?

Kind of takes it from an “us and them” situation to more of a “we” situation, doesn’t it?

The things that I struggle with that put me in the sinner category are probably different than the things you struggle with. The things that I may be making some good headway in doing good, may be different than the things that you are sailing fast and strong in.

But there are things that “we” are working on and things “we” are doing pretty good in.

What if, and this is a pretty radical idea, I know, but what if I tried to learn from you the things that you are making progress on, and in turn, I shared what I could with you about things that make my life better?

What would happen to the battle lines and the rhetoric and the name calling and the mudslinging?

We might just find that we actually have time to sit down and, again, wait for it, talk to each other, and, yes, even listen to each other.

I’m sure I am naïve and don’t know all that is going on. I don’t think that I am the only one. Rather than let myself get whipped up in the mob mentality and grab my pitchfork as we get ready to storm the opposition, maybe I could see what I could actually find out.

Learn.

Understand.

I believe in religious freedom. I believe it is why this country came into being. It saddens me that so many are choosing to abandon religion and faith when I know that it brings me so much happiness.

But I’m pretty sure that you’re not going to be interested in learning about that happiness if all you can hear are the war cries from my side.

And it will be hard for me to stop and try to see things from your perspective if I’m ridiculed as a religious fanatic who needs to get into the 21st century.

But I’m willing to try if you are.

Because, it is OUR country, a country unlike any other in the world.

So, maybe it is worth taking a closer look at just what we are doing with this precious freedom each of us want so dearly.

In the name of freedom, are we actually putting ourselves in bondage?

Bondage to anger.

Bondage to fear.

Bondage to selfishness.

If all of us are fighting for the right to live our religion and our faith, or, to just be kind and loving people but without a faith, don’t we have the responsibility to actually do it?

Do I accept you, or do I respect you? Which allows us to be who we are?

We live at a time when our lives are filled with advances in technology that make things much quicker and easier to get done. However, it seems to leave us more time to find things in each other that we don’t like. Of course, not everyone is angry with their neighbor. But if you listen to the media or read the latest articles it would seem that most of us are. Or we feel that most of our neighbors are angry with us for some reason.

I hear 30 second spots with people saying things like “I want to be accepted for who I am”. The message seems to be that they feel like outcasts. Ostracized. Unloved.

No one wants to feel that way. Each of us has an inherent need to feel love in our life, both given outwardly and received inwardly. I consider it right up there with air to breathe in importance.

So, what’s making people feel that they aren’t accepted?
I guess that would make me wonder what the definition of “acceptance” is. Dictionary.com provides the following:
1. The act of taking or receiving something offered.
2. Favorable reception; approval; favor.
3. The act of assenting or believing: acceptance of a theory.
4. The fact of state of being accepted or acceptable.

The first definition makes me wonder if there is a group of people out there offering something that is being rejected. That one is probably pretty easy to answer.

If we open up our circle to include the world of politics, then I think we could nod our head and say firmly “yes” that something is being rejected. But people don’t seem to spend time feeling bad about it; in fact, just the opposite. It almost brings a power and strength to their cause if they are seen as the underdog. They are energized by the fight.

It’s the second definition that seems to make more sense here. The message could be “If you don’t approve of me, you don’t accept me”. Maybe they are saying “I want others to see me as favorable, approve of who I am, and find favor in what I believe.”

We are probably pretty quick to say that we would accept a perfect stranger that we know nothing about. We have no reason not to accept them. We see them simply as that, a human being, just like us.

I think where the trouble starts is when “for who I am” is added. “I want to be accepted for who I am.”

Now they are more than another human being who is just like us.

Now they are NOT just like us.

Now they are different.

Different can be good. Different can also be bad. Each of us has to figure out for ourselves what would make different go one way or the other.

Now that we understand that they are different, we see that a condition has been put on the desired acceptance and approval.

I don’t know if they intend this message, but what we seem to hear is “I want you to approve of the same things that I approve of about me that make me who I am.”

Well, now I guess that all depends. Who are you?

A little vulnerability is now required, soul bearing if you will. For example, if I want to be accepted for “who I am”, I certainly need to know “who I am”.

There are probably countless facets and subtleties that work together to make up the general composite of who I am. Yet when I really think about it, there are probably just a few criteria that are truly important and that I would want to be identified by:

Am I a good husband? Does my wife know that she is treasured and loved and valued?Am I a good father? Do my children have the confident humility to move forward and make the difference in the world that they were meant to? Have I helped them to live to their potential?Do those around me know for certain what I believe, what I value, what truths are woven into every fiber of my being, simply through their association with me? What do they know about me through watching me quietly live my life in their midst?

I think when it comes right down to it, these are the things that I would hope state who I am.

But of course other people are going to see more than that when they look at me. They not only are going to see who I am, but also what I do, how I think, what I say, which things I support, how I treat others, what I do in my spare time. They see how I choose to live my life.

Knowing that others see more than I probably want them to see, I sat back and thought about whether I feel accepted or not accepted, based on the second definition from Dictionary.com.

Probably not.

If I lay my political views out there, there will be some who accept but certainly some who do not. If I state emphatically my religious beliefs I am sure that some will agree and some surely will not.

In fact, there may not be a single aspect about me on which I could find universal acceptance. Someone out there may be offended by the way I take up too much air.

There will always be someone who will find me distasteful, not approve of my actions, and not be in favor of what I am trying to move forward.

Always.

Interestingly, it doesn’t really bother me.

So of course I asked myself my favorite question: Why?

Well, on the things that I am only familiar with and don’t have strong convictions on, I’m the first to admit that I probably don’t possess all the facts and I’m still learning. My opinions could very well change as I understand more. So it doesn’t really affect me that others would not approve of me. As I come to know more, I may not approve of myself under these conditions.

On the other hand, things that I really feel strongly about or have rooted deeply within me, that’s different. I can look back in my life and remember when it really mattered to me if people agreed or disagreed, approved or not approved. But now when I really think about it, that doesn’t bother me very much either.

Am I a non-feeling hermit who doesn’t care about the world around me?

No. I actually care. A lot.

So, what happened that it doesn’t bother me now whether others approve or not? What changed?

As I close my eyes and search my heart, I feel it’s pretty simple. I have become more at peace with my decisions and my choices. They are mine. I own them. I choose them. I want these things to be a part of who I am. Others certainly have the freedom and the right to disagree and disapprove; just as I can disagree and disapprove with things that are deeply important to them.

Whether or not you approve of me, or are going to say “I think what you are doing is wonderful”, makes really no difference on my decisions and choices. It may make them easier if you approve, but in the end it really won’t change what I choose.

Lack of approval doesn’t make me less of a person or somehow damage me. I know who I am. I have chosen to be who I am, what I am, how I am.

The things about me that I don’t approve of, I am working on. I am not a victim stuck with something inside me I can’t change.

For example, mental illness is something that I am wired with, but I don’t call myself a mentally ill person. It doesn’t define me. I can work every day to control and change my response to these mental urges and issues.

Because I want to be more than just that. I want to be a good husband, father, and neighbor, remember?

So let’s ask our question again. What about the people who do not accept me for who I am? Let’s say they don’t approve of how I am trying to live with the mental illness.

I guess I need to divide up just “who” these people are. Are they strangers? Neighbors? Family?

I’m probably not going to spend a lot of time worrying about what the strangers, or even neighbors, may think (of course, Ann would tell you with my obsessive compulsive nature that may not really be true, but you get the point). It doesn’t really matter what people outside my safe circle think.

My family’s opinion, however, does matter. I will admit that I did need the people I love the most to understand that this mental illness is actually something biological in my brain that is happening, and not me being in a very bad mood.

Or at least, I want it very badly.

Without that, I am not sure how I would continue on the fight. However, once I did have this acceptance of the people I cared about, then I found it much easier to not be concerned about other’s approval or favor.

So, let’s go back to that 30 second spot of the person asking to be accepted.

I wonder if the person isn’t asking all of society to approve and embrace his or her particular thoughts and actions?

I wonder if they really are asking those they love the most for approval, for acceptance?

Now, what happens when those we love the most then choose to not approve, not embrace, not receive with favor the things that we want to fill our life with?

Is this when we turn and seek that approval from society at large? Sort of grasping at a “second best” solution?

Certainly those closest to us have the freedom, the right to approve or not approve. Everyone is on their own journey and we are all at different points in our learning and becoming. Remember, we have to choose for ourselves what makes different good or bad.

As I get older and fatter and balder, I’ve learned that I can absolutely love someone and love many, many things about them and not approve of particular things. They know my position and where I stand on these particular things. I don’t apologize or try to minimize issues that we disagree on. Part of me being me is being able to stand up and speak clearly the things that I feel to be true. It’s who I am.

But I also don’t attack or fight with them on the things that we disagree about every time we get together.

A long time ago I was taught that real love is being able to separate the behavior from the human being. I believe that is true. I know where they stand. They know where I stand. We understand each other.

Of course, if we really think about it, all of us have parts of ourselves that we don’t really like much. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that we should we then expect others to love everything about us, without exception, would it?

Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Maybe we need to change the word from acceptance to something like tolerance. Can you love me even though I have this or that about me that you don’t approve of?

My wife knows absolutely everything about me, every wart, every problem, every struggle. There’s a lot there to not approve of.

But she loves me anyway. Truly loves me and wants to be with me.

Maybe a step farther than tolerance would be respect.

Can you respect me even though you don’t approve of everything about me? Can you feel kindness toward me?

The reality is I can disagree with things you feel are important, just as I know that you can disagree with things that are deeply personal and vital to me.

Here’s a concept: Knowing we disagree, can we still work together? Build a friendship? Based on things we do agree on, can we develop genuine respect for each other?

Yes. I will say it firmly and with conviction. YES.

So, even though you don’t agree with me, don’t approve of some of the things that make me “me”, I would like to work with you on common ground projects. I would like to get to know you better and find things that I do like about you. I’m willing to bet that for most of us, we would find the number of things that we do like about others will always be more than the number of things we don’t particularly approve of.

And I feel that regardless of that number, I choose to give you my respect.

So, do I accept you? Or, do I respect you? Which one allows each of us be “who we are”?