The Drain of Discernment

Some people call us empaths, intuitives. Biblically, we are said to have the gift of discernment. Still others chalk it up to wisdom. Whatever you call it, there exists in some people the innate, intangible ability to discern, to sense and perceive truth, motivations, emotions, and even sometimes the paths of other people. Not psychic abilities, not a parlor trick, but a genuine, God-given ability to recognize and empathize.

Before I knew what it was, I had this gift of discernment. As a child I knew immediately who I did and did not like, who I trusted, who was putting on a show. I felt others’ sadness deeply and mourned with them long after parting ways. I sensed their anxiety and insecurities. I bristled at their manipulations. I felt an intense connection with animals and more often than not spent birthday parties talking with my friends’ parents. I didn’t always like every one of my parents’ friends, and people who wore masks did not appreciate that I could see through them. In all, it made for a very, very cynical kid.

As an adult who now recognizes and trusts in this gift, I’m exhausted.

I’m almost the very definition of an extrovert. I absolutely love being around people, draw my energy from crowds. Yet I crave alone time. I thought it was because I’m a stay at home mom and it’s really freaking hard. I thought I was one of those ambiverts or an outgoing introvert. I could not figure out how I’m both energized and drained by human interaction to the point of irritability, fatigue, even sadness. Then I realized it – I’m tired because it literally does drain me. To be constantly searching others for their emotions, their motivations, to be hyper aware of subtleties and sideways glances. I’m never just around people, I feel people.

Sensing others’ emotions and manipulations can really make someone skeptical, disillusioned, even pessimistic. That’s a hard load to carry, and often it’s carried alone. I’ve been accused of being judgemental, harsh, bitter. I’m not perfect, and I definitely wander down those paths sometimes, but when you voice your doubts about someone you tend to look like a jerk. When you don’t fall for shows it’s impossible to wear rose-colored glasses. I’ve felt so strongly before that certain people were not who they presented themselves to be that I’ve doubted myself. I’ve examined my motives, reasons. Was I jealous in any way? Had they slighted me? Do they wear Crocs regularly? I couldn’t put my finger on my uneasiness, especially in comparison to seemingly everyone else’s adoration. Once I even approached a person and apologized to them for the feelings I had that prevented me from developing a relationship with them. And you know what? Every single time my gut was right. Even the person I tried so hard to like, the one I embarrassed myself by approaching and apologizing to.  Every time, every one, they showed themselves to be toxic, harmful people. These alarms going off inside, the gut feeling, the voice of God, they were all discernment, and though I often stood alone in my feelings, I stood in truth. Questioning someone’s motives when you’re uneasy around them doesn’t make you any more judgemental than locking your front door does. But it does make you look like a pretty harsh person to others who don’t have the same sirens blaring inside.

So it gets lonely. It gets sad and hard to be the one who naturally mistrusts some people.

It’s also really sad and hard to empathize.

I love people. Genuinely love people. I want the best for them. I love to help, love to encourage, love to hug. Don’t get me wrong, I like my space and alone time and get really flippin’ frustrated in parking lots (where the worst of mankind always manifests), but I love people. I like talking with them, laughing with them. I cannot go anywhere in public without being drawn into conversation with a stranger. I earned my degree in counseling because I feel so called to help and get the most incredible rush from being able to do so. I can’t always offer my time, I can rarely offer money, but I can offer my empathy… and that mess is draining.

What a privilege to share in life’s greatest emotions with others, but what a struggle to also feel them. I would never wish empathy away, but I do wish for a nap after a particularly heavy conversation. I do wish I could watch movies about injustice or grief and not feel such overwhelming guilt. The feelings are deep. They don’t compare to what someone is going through, obviously, and I would never tell someone I knew exactly how they felt, but what I do feel is intense. Trust that if you have shared your struggles with me, I am feeling a tug for you all day. When I tell you I’ve been thinking about you or praying for you, it’s genuine. Taking on others’ pain, sadness, even joy means taking on more emotions than you yourself would normally feel in a day. You feel enough for one person and then some. I cry way more than I’d like to admit, and sometimes just from how overwhelming all the emotions are. It pulls from you, in ways that cannot be measured. Attempting to explain this fatigue can get you a lot of eye rolls and heavy sighs. It’s tough to explain just how much it pulls from you to care so deeply, but oh, what a wonderful gift it still is. While our hearts run the risk of hardening towards others because of mistrust, they remain tender with this concern we experience.

Ah, our hearts. Such tricky things. We straddle the line between doubt and empathy, using our energy to constantly evaluate those around us – though such feelings aren’t really quantifiable. We’re not ranking, we’re not judging, we’re feeling. And those feelings guide us to a position of silent power that can all too easily be used to manipulate. Our own hearts have to be examined regularly. We feel things others don’t, we know things others don’t, so we sit with this information and are faced with the question of what to do about it. Do we warn others? Do we approach them? Do we just avoid this shifty-feeling person? Or do we use these feelings, this “knowledge” to our advantage? Too many use the ability to read others for their own gain. They sense the relationships of the people around them and play them off one another. They pick up on the egos and the insecurities and hold onto them like poker cards. They lie with incredible ease and skill, knowing just what to say and how to say it. Because of the connection to others’ emotions, they can truly mean the untruths they tell, convince the trusting others. We must keep watch over our own hearts, that whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing.

I haven’t researched it and I haven’t asked others who I know observe with discernment and empathy, but I have a theory about us: we’re beacons.

Those people I speak with when out running errands, they approach me. Every time. I’ve tried listening to my iPod, I’ve tried taking kids with me, I’ve tried Resting Jerk Face, and still I am approached by any and all kinds of people, chomping at the bit to share their stories and struggles with me. I’ve asked for years, how do they know? What about me draws them to me? Why, after a shift of seeing hundreds of people come through their line, did this cashier choose me to share her broken heart with?

It’s the empathy.

Because we all feel. We all experience emotions. And something about those who can feel the emotions around them calls out to those who are too overwhelmed to feel them alone. I remain convinced of my Father’s love by this, that He has placed people around us who are equipped to share the heavy load. These gifts we have were placed with purpose and intent. Some sing, some write, some do math, some speak, some dance, some paint, some teach, and some feel. It is a gift not just for ourselves, but the people around us. It can serve to both protect and heal, warn and serve. The people who need us will find us, and the people who don’t convince us will remain guarded. We can’t quantify this gift, we can barely prove it, yet almost everyone around us can recognize it enough to react to it.

So we find ourselves drained, emotions and doubt and anxiety and conviction having pulled so much from us. We can feel like we’ve lost ourselves, given away so much of ourselves or taken on so much of others. After 10 hours of sleep emotional exhaustion can still remain. The inability to turn off the radar, the intuition, to remain in a state of vigilance, it creates a state of emotional tenseness, always taut, always waiting, always feeling. We’re watchdogs. It can feel like more is taken from us than we freely give. We don’t often have the luxury of optimism to energize us, because this very surreal gift keeps us firmly planted in realism. And realism tells us we’ll be tired again tomorrow. We must seek out opportunities to be alone, to process these emotions, to be granted reprieve from feeling everyone in the room, from being sought out and so heavily relied upon. We must give ourselves rest, find others who pour in as much as others siphon. We must recognize the toll discernment takes on us and actively protect ourselves from becoming emotional roadkill. As you acknowledge this gift you have, acknowledge the impact it has on you. You know, since with great power comes great responsibility. Go forth, go feel, go rest.

 

The Bad Weather Friend

We all know about fair weather friends. We’ve had them, been them. We all have the the friend who is only a friend when times are good, fun, easy, carefree. Then life happens, the going gets tough and the fair weather friends throw up their deuces and are nowhere to be seen.

That’s not what I am.

I’m a bad weather friend. The friend you call when life gives you lemons. The friend you message when you’re broken-hearted, hurting, in need of some kind. I’m not the only friend like this, I don’t begin to be so prideful as to assume that, and I’m not always as available as I’d like to be during the storm. But us, the bad weather friends, we’re the ones in the background, the ones deep in the message inbox because your life has been going well and you haven’t needed us.

I used to resent it, being a safe place. “Don’t tell Betty Sue,” you’d plead to me, “She has no idea I’m going through this.” A week later I’d see you on social media out to dinner with Betty Sue, at the movies with Betty Sue, with nary an invite for me, the person you trusted in your state of vulnerability. “Please help me,” your message would start, “I don’t know what to do.” The next week I’d see the read receipt on my lengthy and well-thought-out response, the words I prayed over and poured into, and see that you’d read them days before without thanks. “I desperately need your prayers,” you cry, “my life is in shambles and I’m terrified of what is to come.” I hold you, cry with you, pray with you, and plead on your behalf at the feet of God, to hear through the grapevine later that everything worked out fine. This hurt me. I felt used, discarded, like a friend of convenience. I was who you turned to in times of need but not times of leisure, someone you knew would be a friend to you but not someone you were interested in being a friend with. I got bitter. I got discouraged. I got jealous.

Then I had to wonder – why would God honor my jealousy? Isn’t there totally something in the Bible about not being jealous? Whatever my experiences and emotions, jealousy is never holy or righteous on my part. Whatever Betty Sue has with you that I don’t, it’s not okay to be jealous of. Because you know what? Betty Sue obviously doesn’t have something that I do. Betty Sue may be fun and may get all the girls nights out, but she doesn’t get you at your worst, she isn’t who you turn to when you need someone you know will be there. Also, Betty Sue is a lot more available to go to the movies than I am – I don’t have childcare or spare cash lying around, so I’m glad you have Betty Sue. I couldn’t maintain the friendship that you and Betty Sue have even if I wanted to, so I’m happy to be your person, happy to keep your secrets and know sides of you that few others do. As for the unreturned messages, well, I’m glad you got them. Those words were for you and I hope they helped. I didn’t offer my help in exchange for thanks, and I’m sure that in the moment you read them you were experiencing the chaos you first messaged me about. Your life was obviously upside down in one way or another, so I couldn’t have expected you to behave as normal. You messaged me in desperation and probably read my replies in the same manner… or you just really hated what I had to say, haha! And when I prayed for you I didn’t do so to gain an invitation into your life. Yes, I would really like to hear the good news, or any news, to follow up and know how you are, because I’m genuinely concerned. But I also understand that I’ve just seen you at your worst – I know your deep, dark shames, I’ve seen you heave and snot and wail. I know about your husband’s infidelities and your boss’ activities, your addictions, your failings, your criminal record. I know things that you wish others didn’t, so it has to be hard to feel comfortable around me sometimes, when things are good and you don’t want to look in the eye of someone who knew you when they weren’t.

On any given morning, I wake to about 10 messages in my inbox, not including invitations to check out whatever direct sales company my friend has joined. It varies from car seat and cloth diaper advice to marital problems, mental health issues, secret cancer scares, legal problems, and more. I receive texts from many others. On any given day, I will most likely not be able to meet these friends for lunch, go out to eat, see a movie, or come hold them in their living rooms. But what I can do, what I can offer them, is being their bad weather friend. I don’t always know what to say and I don’t always have an answer, but they do always have a friend. They always have someone they know they can reach out to, and how humbled I am that they know it’s me. I could feel petty and jealous that they didn’t invite me to dinner, or I can feel honored that they did invite me into their struggles. I can marvel that sometimes after years have gone by without a word, someone will think of me when they need something, when they need encouragement or advice, and know that I’m the person they want. Because my friendship isn’t for sale – you don’t have to buy it with nights out or mani/pedi days or even “likes” on a Facebook post. I’ll keep doing my life and you’ll keep doing yours, and I’ll be happy to help each time you need me to. Besides, it’s just not possible to be best friends with every single person we know.

So we thank you, friends, we bad weather ones who are waiting in the wings. We thank you for trusting us, for turning to us. We thank you for your confidence you share with us and the confidence you place in us. Most likely you come to us because you know we will be there, because something in us wants to be there. We want to help, you’re not a bother. We’d like an update when you can manage and we’d like to share in some of your good times as well, but if we don’t get it we’re still happy for you. Sometimes, just sometimes, we may ask of you what you’ve needed of us – please don’t run. Sometimes we need a safe place, too. Sometimes we need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes protecting everyone’s secrets gets heavy and we just need someone to sit with. Sometimes we really, really want to go out to dinner, too. So I ask, friends, on behalf of all the bad weather friends, don’t forget about us until you need us. Let us be all-weather friends. We may not be Betty Sue, but we’re here for you, we care about you, and we’re cheering you on from wherever you’ll let us.

Resolution Writer’s Block?

Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s 2014, and my Facebook newsfeed has been full of friends and family making promises and vows about what their new year will look like, what the new them will look like. There’s the classic weight-loss resolution, the empowering getting-out-of-debt resolution, the humblebrag volunteering resolution. For every three resolutions that are shared, however, I’m also seeing opinions on resolutions – people rolling their cyberspace eyes at them, those who automatically assume no one will achieve their goals, those who don’t see the point. This blog post is not for those people. I personally love New Year’s resolutions. I think that any time someone takes an opportunity to examine themselves truthfully and challenge themselves to be better is a cause for celebration! Will they make it? Who knows. But the effort alone is something better than what they’d done before, so bra-flipping-vo to them. Every day is a new chance to try again, so if you’ve gained a pound by  January 2nd, so what? You have more than 360 days (I’m pretty bad at math) left to work at it! So I would like to challenge everyone who reads this to make at least one resolution, one vow to better themselves or the people around them. It can’t hurt to try, and it will only help if you do it! Well, except for my oldest, who announced that his New Year resolution was to get a Nintendo 3DS. I told that joker he better resolve to get a job. Below you will find some suggestions for resolutions. Most are pretty simple. I’m not numbering them, because I’m not Buzzfeed and everyone these days LOVES to number their suggestions. 10 Things to do after 10 PM? 17 Ways to Tell Your Mail Carrier Thank You? I’ll leave the numbers with skinny jeans, Crocs, and Pinterest in my “avoid at all costs” pile.

Anywho, please consider choosing a resolution to try! If it doesn’t work, pick a new one. January 1st isn’t a magical date (good, because today is the 2nd). Any time is a great time to be better! Tweak it to make it your own. Involve your whole family. Share it with others to keep yourself accountable or quietly do better. Either way, let’s all plan to do better in 2014. And please, leave your own suggestions in the comments!

 

Try a new trend.  It only takes guts!

Stand up straight. Throw those shoulders back and stare at the world head on. You’ll be surprised to see how much better posture positively affects your mood. Walk around like you’re supposed to be there, not like you were defeated before you got there. And while you’re at it, smile at people as you see them.

Chill out with the selfies. One every now and then is fine, since we want to see your happy, smiling face. But let’s be honest – if you post a weekly selfie, we get it already. And if you post one a week, or even – gasp! – daily, my New Year’s resolution was to hide you from my newsfeed. Self confidence is something you have within yourself, not something you choke others with. For the love, please stop driving and selfie-ing.

Take more photos with you in them. I know, this sounds like it contradicts what I just said. But there’s a difference between taking a photo with a friend or a nice family photo and sitting on a bathroom counter to show everyone what your hair looks like that day. Some day, many many years from now, your children or friends or family will want photos to remember you by. Your grandchildren will want to know what you looked like, be it overweight or skinny, hair done or not. They’ll want to laugh at how silly your clothes looked and marvel at how they have your nose. They won’t want a duckface bathroom mirror picture hanging in their hallway, and you don’t want a picture of you driving, pretending you’re not taking a picture of yourself, blown up and on an easel at your funeral. Jump into the picture and document this time in your life, regardless of how you feel about your appearance. If not for yourself, then for the people in the future who will inevitably want it.

Encourage someone daily.  Send an email or text to someone, compliment your cashier’s hairstyle or nails, pull aside a new mom and tell her she’s doing a great job. It doesn’t have to cost a dime. Take the time to tell a manager about exceptional service you received, send a note in the mail. It takes very little effort, and the smile on their face will almost always result on one on yours. I’ll be honest, I’ve taken screen shots of sweet Facebook messages I’ve received that have made my day. Everyone is always so busy, working so hard, so consumed, and it’s easy to let isolation or routine swallow you up. You may never know the impact that a simple affirmation can have on someone.

Yell less. Unless you’re at a sporting event or being attacked, how necessary is your outside voice? I’ll be honest, I struggle with this myself, often out of frustration at my kids. Yelling may make my words louder, but it rarely gets me heard.

Cook more. I’m grumbling as I’m typing this. I hate cooking. Well, I hate juggling three kids while cooking. I would much rather decide what sounds good and have someone else cook it for me, often better, and much, much faster. But cooking always saves us money, is almost always healthier, and sometimes even leaves enough leftovers for a pretty sweet lunch the next day.

Get involved in a child’s life. If you have a niece or nephew, a grandchild, or even a close friend with a child, please make the effort to be a part of their life. Kids are fascinating creatures. They’re only this age today, tomorrow they’ll be a little older. Children love and need attention, to be made to feel special. I am an only child, so I get extremely jealous and sad when I see or hear of children who have amazing aunts and uncles who are involved in their lives, who call them, babysit them, get excited about them, cheer them on at events. So make a phone call, make the effort. Go to a soccer game, ask them about themselves. Babysit (for free!), CARE. Investing time into a child will ALWAYS be worth it.  Children don’t know how to maintain a relationship when they are young, so you’ve got to do the legwork.

Stop asking me to do things without my kids. Let me clarify: Stop forgetting that I have kids. Without naming names, there is a couple in my life who I should have a better relationship with, but they keep forgetting that I have children. Three of them. Yet this couple’s closing statement the 2-3 times a year I see them is “We should go to dinner, just the four of us.” As stated above, I don’t have an abundance of people in my life who will step up and love my kids for a few hours while I hang out with you. And the babysitting I DO get, I like to use to get a rare date night with my husband. If you want to get closer to me, embrace my kids. Would I love to have a leisurely lunch without them? Oh yes. But if you make it a condition of our relationship that my kids not be present, you can kiss our relationship goodbye.

Plant something. A flower garden, a Topsy Turvey hanging tomato plant, or your feet on the ground, make something grow this year. Make the earth better. Make the air cleaner. Eat produce that you grew. Pick flowers that you watered. Take ownership and pride in something that can nourish your body or soul.

Vote. Learn about issues, local and national, that you can get passionate about and have a voice in. Not everyone has the right to vote, so make sure you appreciate and exercise yours!

Have a garage sale. This will clear your home of unused and unnecessary clutter, force you to give yourself a deadline if you set the date of the sale, and get you some extra cash. You can join together with friends or neighbors to help share the workload. Craigslist is spotty and Ebay takes time, but a garage sale is relatively quick and easy to pull off. How could your life not be better with less mess and more moolah? Bonus – Use the cash to pay off a bill!

Stop the Facebook game requests. Seriously. I can count on my hands the number of people I have ever deleted as a Facebook friend, but the majority of those few chosen were due to excessive game requests. Yes, now I know I can block requests from individual people, and believe me, I do. I once received over 20 requests in a single day… from a single person! The craziest part? All of the game requests – every single one – are from adults. Grown dang people. People with jobs and families. If you send me multiple game requests, I WILL simultaneously block your ability to do so and question what you do with your life. I’ve also noticed a correlation between the people who send large amounts of game requests and the people who complain about their lives. I’m not SAYING the games are the cause of unhappiness in their lives, I’m just saying maybe if they spent less time being grown dang people who play computer games and more time being grown dang people who engage in their real life, they’d see that there are blessings all around them.

Park better. If you find yourself with the wheels of your vehicle over the lines of the parking spot in 2014, take the time to back out and try again. Otherwise, someone else may resolve to key your vehicle or leave you a nasty note. Or just resolve that you’re not smart enough to park between two straight lines.

Listen. If it’s a child telling a never-ending and nonsensical story or an elderly man talking about his grandchildren in the grocery store, they’re telling you because they want you to hear it. Just listen.

Volunteer. Not to humblebrag. But to offer something that is invaluable and always there, no matter what your bank account says: your time and your heart. If you can’t give, help. Contact local food pantries to see if they need items or help stocking shelves. Contact local churches to see if they have outreach ministries. If you’re involved in a church, pray about what department you feel strongly about and could offer one day a month to help with. Mentoring or tutoring programs with schools or libraries. Women’s shelters. Nursing homes. Soup kitchens. Homeless shelters. Prison ministries. Pregnancy centers. Children’s hospitals. Do yardwork for a widow or even just mow your neighbor’s yard while you’re already out there doing yours. Contact someone who hasn’t been to church in a while and let them know they’re missed. Babysit – for free! Hug someone who has been hurt. Share your love as passionately as you do your political beliefs. Give of your time and heart and make a difference.

Accept people for who they are – not who you think they should be.  Many of the times in my life that I have been disappointed by someone, it is because I expected them to be someone else, or at least behave a certain way. If someone has always been a flake, then I can’t expect plans with me to change that. If children are inherently selfish, then I can’t expect mine to not struggle with sharing. My mother is bipolar, no matter how much I wish she weren’t. Loving someone who is bipolar is as much a roller coaster for you as for them (and I may blog about this alone in the future). But I was reminded by my aunt that she is bipolar no matter how much it affects me. I can either accept her as she is (and remind myself that sometimes there’s more illness than individual), or not at all. Yes, sometimes people just ARE that dumb. But getting angry about it won’t make them smarter or help either of you. The sooner you let someone else’s choices or quirks roll off your back, the happier you’ll be. Someone being rude to you has nothing to do with you – they’re just rude. So don’t take it personally and move on. My younger son does not behave the way my older son does. The sooner I accept that he is NOT my older son, the sooner I can appreciate what makes him so different. If someone is living a lifestyle different than my own, they are not doing so as a personal affront to me. I do not have the right to be offended that someone is different from myself.  Accept people for who they are, and your life will get infinitely happier.

Buy small. Maybe there’s a cute boutique in your town. Maybe you know someone who sews or embroiders or paints or builds. I’m sure you know a mechanic who works in a small garage. A hole-in-the-wall local favorite restaurant. I have dozens of friends involved in direct sales, everything from Scentsy to spa products, wine to supplements, jewelry, purses, home decor, makeup… I challenge you this year to use your dollars to support small businesses, small business owners, and local favorites. If you’re going to have to buy something anyway, see if you can support a friend while doing it. The customer service you’ll receive will almost always be better, products will almost always be higher quality, and your community will be directly influenced by your support.

Watch Impractical Jokers. Just once. You’ll laugh so hard you might pee yourself.

Reduce your ingredients, not your pants size. If you’re going to resolve to get healthier this year, do it to be actually healthier, not smaller. Diets are temporary. Changing your lifestyle will have much greater impact. Denying yourself a Snickers for all of 2014? Good luck with that. But educating yourself about the ingredients you introduce into your body will make you much more passionate about your health, and will probably have the added bonus of wittling away at your waistline.

Accept responsibility. The sooner you stop blaming others and accepting how your own actions affect you, the sooner you can do something about them to change whatever you’re unhappy with. Are you mad at the guy driving slowly in front of you? Maybe if you’d left on time you wouldn’t be so rushed. Friends keep letting you down? Maybe you asked too much of them. You have the worst parents in the world because they won’t upgrade your iPhone? Maybe you’re a spoiled brat. Accept that we’re all human, all fallible, and all capable of messing up our lives. Accept your responsibility. Then go a step further and do something about it.

Love on your pastor. And his wife. And his kids. Don’t have a pastor? Then find someone who pours into your life, encourages you, gives of their time, and love on them. Ministry is a largely thankless job that is definitely not pursued for the money. I’m sure this will end up being a blog post of its own in the future, as well, but for now, just know that pastors deal with a lot. While you’re at it, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and many other professions where someone leaves their family to help yours is worthy of the occasional thank you. Muffins, gift cards, notes, hugs…. Take the time to thank someone who took the time.

Welcome troops home. Go to the airport, make a sign, and prepare to cry your face off. If you can’t make it to a homecoming, then adopt a soldier. Send cards or letters to deployed soldiers. If you live near a base, offer your home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or really any meal for someone’s son or daughter who misses home badly. Their job is harder than yours, and they don’t see their loved ones as often as you do, so reach out, thank them, and do what you can.

 

As usual, I’ve gone on much longer than I expected to. There are countless ways to do better this year, so let’s hear your suggestions! Good luck everyone, and Happy New YOU!