Iced Tea Chat: Tiny Irritations and Tangled Webs

Hello dears, do hurry and come in and have a seat.  The gnats are fierce out there and they seemingly want in out of the heat and humidity as much I do when I've been outdoors.  I tried to water plants the other morning and ended up beating the air about my ears trying to get the things out of my ears.  Ugh.  I knocked my glasses askew and then bumped them off so that they flew across the yard.  I retrieved them and laid them on the porch railing. I'm not completely able to see without them but doggone it I can't afford to wreck them while I fight off gnats either.

I walked down to the mailbox later to put in some outgoing mail and ended hiking up the neck of  my tee shirt so that I could cover my ears.  That was a help.  It made me think that a scarf wrapped about my head  might be the solution when working in the yard.  If you wonder why I'm not using any sort of repellant it's merely because I have had an abundance of purchases and birthdays (with three still to go this month) and our leeway has given out in the budget.  Gnats are not life threatening, just tiny irritations.  I will say however, if anyone were to be minded to try torture I'd start with mosquitoes and gnats.  Forget the old tricks of slivers of bamboo under nails or those torture stretching rack things (which John always thought looked rather therapeutic, lol, he always says it looks like it would pull kinks out of your back rather nicely).  Just shut me out in the yard with a thick cloud of tiny buzzing insects all about and I'd probably spill state secrets if I knew any!

Well that got me thinking about all sorts of things.  Tiny irritations are enough to break a person if they keep right on being permanently irritating but most things of that nature we do build up some tolerance for in the end, now don't we?  I expect the first 24 hours would be the hardest and thereafter I'd be coping a bit better.  It's the way we're made that makes the first onslaught so hard and then we learn to just deal with it.

But what about those tangled webs?  I am really talking dense spider webs of relationship patterns.

Two years ago, when I was laid up in the hospital, there were three people conspicuously missing in well wishes and support.  I can tell you honestly that of the three there was not one good reason why any one of them couldn't have been there for a visit at least once.  Of the three, one made a phone call to let me know that my illness was an inconvenience to their personal life plans.   In no manner could these three be bothered to go our of their way to actually wish me well.  It was very sobering.  It brought home to me the number of days I'd devoted time and energy to these people in trying to build solid relationships and how often I'd accepted less than nice behavior in return.  Honestly, petty as it may sound to some of you, there's nothing quite like not knowing if you're going to live through the next 24 hours and noting that of the people who reach out, three in conspicuously important  relationships with you are silent.  I get all the 'Well some people don't know how to tell you how they feel..." etc.  I do understand that some are just reluctant to be near illness.  I get that.  This was not the case in either of these three situations.  They've done this plenty for many people in their lives.

So yes, it took some deep and serious thought.   I had to let go of bitterness and fully forgive.  It's a bit like trying to rid yourself of mice or some other particularly pesky  destroying thing.  You think it's all eradicated and you start finding evidence elsewhere in your life that you aren't done yet.  It's painful and it gets wearying but you have to continue to do all you can or it takes over, and it does mean to take over.   Bitterness and strife and unforgiving attitudes do nothing at all to harm those who inflicted the pain but it is physically and spiritually poison to the one who decides to live in it.  It's a bit like playing in poop and then wondering what stinks and why you're infected.

Well as it turned out, of those three relationships, one is exactly as it was before.  It's in name only, truly. It was I who held on to the relationship and I was all alone in holding on.  I live in a small town, a small southern town at that.  There's a pattern for introductory conversation.  Southerners want to establish relationship with people.  They start by asking "Who are your people?"  because families in small towns and rural counties intertwine throughout the years.  My cousin marries yours, or your aunt happens to be my great grandmother or even the looser connections, my butcher is your brother in law's first cousin.  It all counts as connection.  In a rural Southern area we 'claim' folks as kin even if the relationship is diluted by several generations and branches off multiple times.   In this particular close blood relationship where DNA is beyond evident, to have someone look at me and say, "I've known 'x' for thirty years and never knew you were family..." it pretty much sums up how close we aren't and never will be.  

Of the second relationship I've never seen the person again.  Nor heard another word.  It was as though I really had died as far as these first two relationships are concerned, as though who I am today is a ghost to them, an embarrassment of vapor that  will not pass on to the other side.

And then there is the third relationship.  It's not a relationship I want to completely write off.  It too is a close blood relationship.  I want to tell you it's because I respect this person but that's not really all of the  truth.  I do have respect for some of the things done, for the relationship itself, but if it were not blood relation  I would absolutely walk away.  I've been asked before, "If this were a stranger named Smith would it matter?  Would you let Stranger Smith treat you in such a way?"

I'd say it was a matter of admiration of the individual , because I do admire some of the things this person has done in life.  But that too isn't completely true.  There are a lot of things this person has done to destroy relationships between others and succeeded quite well in doing.  There are a lot of petty jealousies and hurts that have garnered retaliations that were embarrassing and painful and extremely hurtful.  There are a lot of resentments that one is expected to make up for, even while being assured that you never can make up for them.  It is a relationship in which one is expected to sacrifice all other relationships because no other shall have any importance compared to this one and if you so much as hint that another is at least equal, we're right back to the retaliatory behavior.  That may mean physical as well as verbal abuse or it can mean being cut off completely until you are deemed necessary once more.

That is not to say that I hadn't realized long ago that I needed hard boundaries with this person.  I created many and after that late spring 2015 crisis I realized that my boundaries needed to be still tighter and built with greater fortification.  I won't tell you it isn't hard.  I long to do certain things but I can't because if I do, the walls are breached immediately.  It's that insidious a relationship between us.

What brought all this to head over the past week has been an ongoing physical deterioration of the individual. It is a concern.  I made a suggestion of something helpful and perfectly reasonable and offered to attend to it immediately.  I was told no, as I have been told no  to every reasonable suggestion that would help.    Seven days later, I get a phone call and it was suggested that now the suggestion is valid and it would be a good time for me to tend to it.  

Only it wasn't a good time to go ahead.  I discovered in questioning that I'd have to travel many miles, and attempt to contact several people to get key items that were necessary to perform the act and none of the preliminary work that might have been done had been.  It wasn't that it was just an inconvenience at that moment but what would have taken an hour at best the week before would require at least a full day of my time at that moment.  I had not been feeling well and  I said apologetically that I couldn't do it.  I suggested an alternative that required much less time on any one person's part or merely asking the person who lives with them to tend to it.

Not only did I feel guilty in saying no, I could hear the disappointment that I wasn't willing to just drop everything at that moment and do as told as I would have done in the past.  It was obvious I was not playing the game and it was considered not fair play on my part.  I struggled with all sorts of things as I said, spiritually and mentally and emotionally and thought I'd ought to just give in when John put his foot down and said "No.  Absolutely no."  Unreasonably, I felt even more torn and resented his thinking he had the right to say no.

So to insure that I didn't, my body immediately reacted to the stress.  I've had a bout of a painful condition that isn't life threatening but does drain my energy and leave me unable to attend to my household.   It also insures I don't leave my home.   I've laid about and been depressed and been sharp and irritable.   My mental anguish had become physical and I knew I literally needed to heal in more ways than one.

And so this week I ran smack into my own fortifications and it hurt like running headlong into a stone wall should.  It made me mad and sad. It left me confused and questioning my own wisdom and my Christianity and the very core beliefs that I not only espouse but try to live by.  It hurts to say that this person is my enemy but it's truth.  Because you see, however much I've built up my walls, this person knows full well that I am weak somewhere and is seeking that weak area where I break.  I've called this person my torturer in the past and it's truth.  The behavior that drove me to build my walls has not changed one whit.  The manipulations have changed slightly, a reaction to the changes I wrought in distancing myself from certain behaviors two years ago.  But the enemy still lies in wait.

I cried out to God asking why this is so, asked how I can cope and asked what I should do.  "Give me a sign, just one sign, that tells me how to proceed!  Please!"   And the answer came, but it was hard to understand at first.  "Heap coals on your enemy's  head."    Heaping coals on his head does not mean to set fire to this person, which sounds harsh enough to be mildly satisfying in nature,  but is actually a charitable act. A pastor explained  in a sermon we heard this past weekend:   In the old testament days, when  cold days came, beggars who had no money for wood would walk the streets with a flat pan on their heads and beg for embers.  People would drop a live coal onto the pan as the beggar walked past their window. He took his coals, went home and cooked his meal and warmed his home.  So I am to be charitable, not vengeful.

In the New Testament, Paul instructs us to do all we do with love, because he says that all we do without love is meaningless.  Had I no love at all, it wouldn't matter how this relationship goes on would it?  I wouldn't struggle so hard to forgive, to try to forget and to wipe away every bit of bitterness.  I had no choosing in the loss of the two other relationships.  In each instance, I was dropped out of that person's life by none but themselves.  I didn't remove myself. I simply stopped being pushy about being given a place in their lives.  But in this last relationship,  I am entangled in a web.  I continue to hold onto a stubborn hope that things will change.  I seem to feel that if this relationship too is a failure it makes me a failure. The truth is, I haven't chutzpah enough to cut it off completely because I am certain it would make me a horrible, terrible person.

It's not all untangled to my satisfaction but it's the best understanding I have at this time.  And so I struggle to determine just how I must act within my safe boundary and do what I can without creating an opening that does me harm.  No, it's not easy, not one little bit. I don't have a very good sense of balance at the best of times.  In situations like this, I have none.  It's hard.  I don't really understand why our relationships with some must be so difficult and painful and with others it's easy travel.  I don't understand it at all, but I know it is so.  That I do.

The past few mornings I've been watching a deer graze on the front lawn.  There is nothing more peaceful than a deer when it feels perfectly safe.  This doe grazed like any cattle does and was out the same time each morning.  I'd grown rather used to looking out the window at her as she ate, her tail flicking gently.  As she walked across the yard, she was never in a hurry but just slowly walked across.  I was pretty sure she had a fawn somewhere near.  It's common that at least one doe raises a fawn here on our property.

I missed the doe on Tuesday morning.  I missed her Wednesday, as well.  And then Maddie took off from her breakfast Wednesday and ran into the brush and barked and came back with a fawn's leg bone in her mouth.  The aroma told me the fawn had been dead for some time.  Maddie didn't kill it.  I suspect the coyote that treks across the place from one pasture to the other  had discovered the fawn and killed it and Maddie just stumbled on the remains.  I found myself weeping hard.  It seemed too much this physical ailment and the tangled webs I'd been fighting my way through and the spiritual seeking that had felt like beating at skies of bronze, to have the one peaceful thing I found shattered, as well.  It was as though the evil world had intruded on my last frontier of peace.

I wanted to run away and hide until all my worries went away.  They never do go away though do they?    And it's not in my nature to hide anyway.  I tend to face my troubles head on, much as I'd rather not.  I can't protect myself in any way except to be strong.  Even when being strong is the hardest thing I know to do.  I have to face the hard things as well as the soft easy things.  There is no safe place that will go untouched by some form of disaster or pain.  I can only choose my best path, not the easiest one, but the best one.

John has borne the brunt of my not feeling well and being snippy.  He's well aware of what a struggle this relationship is for me and has been.  I had to stop resenting him and recall that because I was damaged in other relationships before him,  in this relationship I have been nurtured and pushed to grow in equal measure.  His interest is not what makes his path easiest but what makes for a healthy happy relationship for the two of us.  He's learned the same as I that peace at any cost is never ever peace.  It's bondage.  Peace is standing firm assured that your best is not necessarily what another wants but what is right and true, even when it's hard.

No happy sunny post this week.  No easy chat.  If the vague references frustrate you then I'm sorry.  I have never wanted to harm anyone with my blog posts and even though I'm assured that not one of the three mentioned here reads this blog or cares to, I'd rather not have them lose their privacy or anonymity.  Yet, I did want to share that difficult relationships require more of us than those which are easy.  I wanted to share because someone else out there is struggling hard as I have.  Perhaps you aren't aware that the troublesome relationship has been affecting your marriage or your relationships with others.  I wanted to share too because I find writing therapeutic.  On page, I can edit and worm out those other thoughts that get caught in the webs and confuse things still more.


susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

Excellent post. A lot of wisdom and food for thought here.

My sweet mother in law used to use skin so soft to repel gnats and mosquitoes. I was never able to use that product because the scent caused migraines for me. I use one of the insect sprays for mosquitoes, but am not out when mosquitoes are anymore. If gnats are swarming when I'm out, I go back in the house.

I hope that your mind finds ease with the boundaries you had to set and you feel better soon.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you had to deal with all this. I hope next week will be better for you. Thanks for sharing real life and keeping it real. It is easy to get tricked by some blogs and websites into thinking everybody else's life is all sunshine. Kip

Kathy said...

Thank you for sharing your struggles and insights with us. I didn't realize what the heaping coals meant.
I am sorry the mental stress has caused physical problems. I hope that you will be feeling better, and I'm glad that you were able to set some boundaries for your own peace of mind.

Anonymous said...

Hi Terri,
Relationships can be very difficult as you've experienced. I know the reality you speak of. I find visualizing things helps me tremendously. First, is the act of cleansing through water -- very holy! I scrub off the scum and residue from the interaction. Next, I imagine myself or someone in need of protection, encased in a plastic bubble. No one can see the plastic bubble and I am not hidden, but I am safe. The bubble protects me from the garbage generated by the person. Finally, when I encounter this person, I tell myself, "yellow alert, yellow alert!" This signals my body to go into protective mode. "Red alert" would cause me to escape, perhaps only mentally, but to escape. (Got love Star Trek!) Sending good thoughts and a plastic bubble, just for you! Chris

Vintage Ellen said...

I am sorry for the pain you are experiencing with a relationship. Too often we keep these things to ourself and so we think we are the only ones going through hard times. I have had difficulty creating a relationship with my brother and finally had to stop all contact. It was a hard decision and I still wake up in the middle of the night and agonize over it. But it is better for my physical and emotional health. It feels very selfish to put yourself first in these situations but if nothing ever improves or changes then you are only hurting yourself over and over. I hope you can find peace with this. Take care.


Allegra W. said...

I know exactly what you mean. For me it was my sister, and physical distance eventually became resolution. We live in different countries now, and I have to say, it's much easier to love her and pray for her now that we hhave next to no contact. I wish her all the best... Just far, far away from me.

And lest I should sound uncharitable, I do have to point out that being far away from all the family seems to have done her a lot of good too - she went back to school and started a career for the first time in her life in her 50s, and actually spends her days caring for disabled people now. I can't imagine that this wouldn't feel a world better than being a helpless victim she seems to become with any family member.

Lana said...

We are rarely bothered by insects outside because we are 100% fragrance free here. We do not have fragrance in anything we use and do not wear any fragrance so we are often in a group of people fighting off insects and not bothered at all. We do keep No Bites from Hopewell Oils on hand for visitors because no way will I use insect repellent since it is just pesticides.

People do show themselves in times of crisis for sure. I found that out with my husband's heart attack. There were some who I was surprised by how little they seemed to care but for the most part it was and still is a real outpouring of love and concern. It did show me that there were some that I just needed to let go but it has really not bothered me too much because I am just too busy to waste my time thinking about them.

Anonymous said...

Terri, I wish I could come up with a good solution to give you from my different distance of perspective but I don't. I can sure understand much as another can... how it feels. Although I have not been in your same situation I have and am in one similar. To think that the other may not be thinking into the night or worrying like we do about our relationship is hard to imagine. I doubt knowing them they are. They feel they are always on the right side and we are intellectually and in other ways inferior so why bother. Each time I have to deal with them I think it through first but always they seem to easily twist words and things around so I am left confused not knowing how it happened and what to do to undo it. How did the easy thought I started out with get into such a confusing tangle??
I think part of the problem with this unresolution too is that I don't want to be seen by them as unChristian. I represent perhaps one of the only Christian people in their lives. Every thing done is seen under microscope to see by them if all Christians are not phony. Yet since they are so anti Christian it is hard to not be seen so. Plus what they think they see or hear they spread all over to anyone who will listen. Then turn things around so naturally you are at fault. And for them then there is even less of an incentive to ever consider Christianity.
As you talked about way back you need to give it to God and then back off and go on with life. But that is not easy is it... I find it eases me some to make a point of praying for them often in the kindest of ways. Talking to God seems to put a hedge as now He is into the space and not just me and them. Kind of a buffer/softener for my emotions. I am not dealing with my emotions with them but talking to God Almighty who knows me and them as no one else can. I know you pray also but this is my thought on it.
I am so thankful you have John to talk to also and as a believer he can give his perspective. He loves you and can also see things from another view.
I am back to the old Ziggy cartoon I might have mentioned another time.... Ziggy is sitting in a big rocking chair. He says..."Worrying is like rocking. It gives you something to do but gets you no where." ... True.
Yet still we worry.... Sarah

Debby in KS said...

Egads, if ever there was a prickly cactus patch, it is surely some relationships. I can heavily relate and may be able to write as much as you did.

The best I can offer you is probably what you already know. Sometimes there are no explanations and sometimes there are, whether we want to see them or not. (not you personally, just in general).
Many times parents put nothing or very little into a relationship with their children and later on, one hears thru' the grapevine that the parent is disappointed by the lack of effort by their children. The thing is, one can't expect those children to rally around dad in his old age with affection, because there's no base there. They see their friends being treated with love & affection from their kids & determine that their kids are horrible & selfish. In fact, the kids are returning what they were given. "Cats in the Cradle", ya know?
I hear this from many friends. The other I often here is the relative that has always been a leaner. Always leaning on someone for support, money, & loads of other things. And then the leanee gets tired and can't do it anymore. Rather than be grateful for the long-time support, the leaner gets hostile!! As if it was the leanee's job for life to be there for them with no reciprocal behavior! As I said, egads.

I certainly have both types in my life. I file them in my "toxic" category and avoid them as much as possible. I've determined, after banging my head against a wall for so long, that it will not change.

For this reason, I've spent my entire life praying for peace of mind and heart. I think I started at about 8. An adult told me that sometimes, rather than praying what I wanted, to pray for the peace to deal with the results. I grew up to understand what she meant.

Peace to you, Teri

Karla Neese said...

I've had my some of these battles with relationships as well - the hardest with my mother. As cold as this sounds, it was a blessing when the Alzheimer's began to erase the edges of the bad parts of our relationship. When she passed away it was as if the Holy Spirit said - enough, let's bring complete healing to this wounded soul who spent a lifetime lashing out at others out of her own unhealed wounds. I was grateful when He took her home - for her much more than for myself.

Oh, how often the boundaries we erect for health are seen as threats and uncaring. It is indeed a hard road to walk down but so necessary for our health.

I'm praying for you, dear friend. That the Father will be everything you need Him to be and will show you where to find the answers, the peace and the wisdom you need as well.

Becky Gepford said...

During our most recent crisis (almost 2 years ago now), I was also (like Lana) very surprised at who was there for us, and who was not. People I thought were my friends ended up not being supportive, and some who I never dreamed cared ended up being very supportive to me. In a nutshell, after almost 19 years at a church, they hired a consulting firm who decided that the way for the church to become bigger and better was to let some of the staff go, and my husband was one of the ones who went. There was no warning, just one day he went to work and did not have a job anymore. So hurtful. It also ended up making a more negative impact on the church than they planned--in our mind, the consulting firm was the big winner--they got paid regardless and many, many people got hurt in the process. People we care about a lot and only wish the best for ended up confused, upset, angry, and some without a church home. Our children lost their church home and many of their friends, since we were also church-less and they were without a youth group in one day.

Relationships are so hard, especially when they are one-sided. Because my husband was in the ministry for so long, people expected him to be the "giver" and "fixer" all the time. When he needed to be the "taker" for a time, there were quite a few people who did not know how to handle that and they just faded away from our lives. Others did not know what to say, so they just basically ran away from us in the store, etc., so they did not have to talk to us. Others wanted to have long, involved conversations in the store. Many of those conversations were people wanting to show support, some wanted every grimy detail (which we could not give because we had signed a confidentiality agreement), Some wanted to "explain" why they were still staying at the church even though they did not agree with the decision (as if that mattered to us at that point.) We ended up going to the store very early in the morning or late at night so we would not see people. We eventually ended up moving to another town about 40 minutes away so we would not keep running into people every day. We prayed for the people, and mostly prayed that God would not let us turn bitter and angry over the wrong that was done to us. We prayed that He would take care of us (boy did He) and that for our part we would be able to live with integrity and hold our heads high and not be ashamed with any behavior we did in response to what was done to us.

We found that God is faithful. We didn't keep in contact with quite a few people, but several relationships have remained strong. We are coming out of the devastation of feeling blindsided, betrayed and another thousand emotions. We have never lacked for any material thing that we needed during this entire time. Best of all, we can smile again. The children are finally settling in a bit. Everything is not the same. We have had tremendous losses, such as our dream house in the country--what we can afford now is a small house in town. Rob's paycheck is about 1/3-1/2 of what it was before. But, God is teaching me contentment little by little, and showing me that my NEEDS are met. In the end, my biggest prayers are being answered--I prayed numerous times that I would not turn into a bitter old woman and that I would be able to keep my faith. So far, so good.

All that to say--it's ok to set limits, it's ok to pick and choose who you are going to talk to or even live near.

We have a couple of family members that we don't have any contact with, due to the toxicity of the relationships with them, sadly rooted in mental illness or terrible choices in some cases. I decided that I simply didn't have the energy to handle them, with everything I have on my plate. My kids and husband have to come first.

Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Hi Terri, just checking in after being absent for awhile and really was touched by this post. The story of the fawn saddened me and served as a much needed reminder of how temporary we all are on this earthly plane. You are strong and brave my friend, your good character radiates by way of every word you write and spreads more good than you may ever know. I agree with Chris and her use of the is a powerful invocation of the ar armor of the good Lord. Perhaps it's no accident that just this afternoon I began reading a book titled
"Redemption At Hacksaw Ridge: The Gripping True Story That Inspired The Movie (Hardcover)".
Mike and I saw the movie last year and we were incredibly moved. It's a story about not only by one man's heroic efforts to save many of his comrades wounded in battle, but of the horrific treatment he endured at the hand of some of the very men he ended up saving. It tells of a man who chooses to do and be good in the face of rejection and harassment. More importantly, to me, it serves as a reminder that Christians are offered a third choice in how to respond to maltreatment, that is love without submission. That's what you are doing. You are very wise in understanding that, as you wrote, "....peace at any cost is never ever peace. It's bondage. Peace is standing firm assured that your best is not necessarily what another wants but what is right and true, even when it's hard." I repeat, you are brave, strong and have the armor of good surrounding spite of appearances at times. Sending good thoughts and prayers to you as always.

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