Monday, August 28, 2006

the higher road

i have found in most of my life that i rarely take the higher road. even when i'm right i burn myself by my emotional reactions to incidents rather than keeping my mouth shut and allowing the other person to look the fool, or to be shown for their bad reactions.

'respond, don't react' is one of my favorite recovery principles. i try to remember it... and when i do i find that i am better for it.

one of the only ways to engage my father in community is to play cards. so we have a family game that i have grown up playing that is quite involved (6 decks) and it's usually a full evenings entertainment playing together. it beats sitting in the living room with the tv blaring to sports night or some other dumb sport show (sorry...)

last night we again started to shuffle the cards and play. it was an amazing weekend. we had a picnic over the river at a friend's home. so much of our community was there and it was a real time of interaction and blessing. yesterday my two kiddos were baptized (i'll blog about this later) and it was one of the most amazing days of a mom's life.

when it was all over i realized how exhausted i really was. it was like someone let the air out of me. i had nothing left to give. buck's little friend was there for dinner and if liam hadn't bbq'd burgers i think we would have starved. i could hardly put thoughts together to think of all that needed to be done.

i shouldn't have agreed to play cards. i really shouldn't have. but i knew that not playing meant everyone else would be left with nothing to do. i had a new good book to read and sleep was calling me - but i figured sleep can come after tuesday.

it's always men vs. women. and we were winning. i had the cards in the second hand to go out and asked my partner if i could - it was a quick hand and i was going to 'set' the guys with negative points. my father is one of the most competitive people i know. i have relinquished everything competitive in my life because i can see the same nature in me and i loathe it. i really wasn't goading him, i just had the cards and really just wanted the game to be over. i didn't realize that we didn't have one of the requirements for going out and he finally caught it and came after me. his reaction was way over the top and i sat there dazed.

he was like a school yard bully. competition brings out the worst of my father. it has my whole life. normally i have the resources to take it. normally i just internalize whatever he says and does and count it as my bad. i had learned in the 5 years we lived together learned to begin to stand up for myself, but what that usually meant was me over-reacting to his reaction and me looking like the over-emotional idiot and hurting my cause. definitely taking the low road.

last night i was just able to see his reaction for what it was, kind of outside my body. say 'whoa, that was a huge over-reaction, if you had just pointed out that i missed this kindly i would have just passed.' but as i sat there i became so sad, so very, very sad. i could feel my lip starting to quiver and my emotions were starting to kick in. for me it's way easier to funnel sad emotions into anger as it's empowering, sadness leaves me feeling out of control. so i sat there fighting between an all-out weep and wanting to tell him off.

i battled myself for a couple of minutes and then realized that neither was a good option for me. so i said 'i'm done. i've got a good book to read and i'm done.' and walked away. they were all stunned and argued with me and i said 'i have worked so hard these past couple of weeks to make things as nice as possible for your vacation. i'm too tired to do this now and i don't want to say things i would regret or that would hurt you.'

he argued with me again and i was so tempted to lay into him. my arm raised, my finger pointed and the words were forming in my mouth. again, i saw 'me' from outside of myself and said outloud 'no, i'm not going to do this, i'm going away so i don't say anything i will regret'. i grabbed 'the princess and the goblin' and went to read to my kids.

it was the right move. i felt so good about setting that boundary and saying 'i will not be treated like this'. i was tempted to get angry and fight back and put him in his place. everything i would have said would have been the truth - but it would not have been spoken in love.

by taking the higher road i was able to leave him there looking like a bully instead of hiding his actions in my over-reactions.

he came into pink's room to apologize, but i said 'not now'. i really wanted it to be more than just a hug - i wanted him to be forced to talk to me and really clear this up. he was really offended, but i knew dealing with this in front of my kids would be unfair to them. after i tucked the kids in i went into the living room and said 'i'm heading to bed, if you'd like to talk about this i'll be in my room'.

he came in and sat at the edge of my bed and i didn't say a word. it forced him to talk. he started to say 'my reaction really wasn't that bad...' i responded at the tone and level of the words he said to me and it made him literally jump. i think he finally understood how intense he is. he finally got it. i have endured his vented, inappropriate anger my whole life and he has excused himself because he never realized how over-the-top he really was. by startling him i think i finally got through.

i wasted five years of standing up for myself instead of using his own actions to teach him how damaging he was to me. i felt so heard by him. something that i don't think has happened over a dozen times in our 40 years together.

it felt so good. i was able to explain how hard i worked this week. how it wasn't a 'vacation' for me. how i wanted it to be nice for him and my aunt, but that i was just plain tired out. that i didn't have the brains to play cards and i really didn't have the resources to argue with him.

he apologized to me and asked if i wanted to have a meal together today. he hugged me a couple of times and told me he loved me. it was nice. he never said the magic 'i'm proud of you' words - but it was more than i could have hoped for. and i know that it helped him too to really have a full-circle interaction with someone. we all screw up and step in it. but by denying it in our shame, pretending it didn't happen or coating it over in future kind gestures to compensate we are never allowed the full-circle of redemption.

owning our junk, apologizing for it and looking that wounded person in the eyes while you do it allows for it to build a bridge between your souls. gaining forgiveness and nurturing the relationship is what we all long for. all of the other options are just shellac and varnish that crust over and harden our hearts and make us in the end farther away from each other and denying what we truly want and desire.

confess your sins one to another, pray for each other and you will be healed.

james 5:16
it really works!

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