The Imaginary Friend

I have this friend. Want to meet her? She’s really nice. Although she’s a bit shy, and I’m a bit shy, so I won’t tell you her real name. We’ll call her Lucy, after Lucy from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I think she’d like that.

Lucy is one of the few people I’ve met who think in the shapes and patterns as I do. She shares my dreams, my crazy and out-there vision, and she gets it implicitly, without much explanation, when I tell her the deep and secret things of my heart. And because of that I think I’ve told her a lot of things I’ve never told anyone else. I like that. It’s comforting. She lives a long way away, so we usually just chat via email, or on Facebook, but even though she’s a long way away I know she’s there, that she’s there for me, and that sense of “presence” is comforting.

I jokingly refer to her as my “imaginary friend”, partly because she shares the same name as my childhood imaginary friend, and partly because it’s fun to pretend that, because I’ve only met her in person once and because she fills that hole in my life of people-who-think-in-those-strange-shapes-and-patterns-as-I-do-and-share-my-vision, that I’ve just invented her in my head, you know, because I needed someone like her.

And yesterday, quaking over some deep and nameless terror, wiping tears from my cheeks, I emailed her again, and knowing she was there, and that she’d understand, made me feel better. And then I laughed to myself, thinking “she’s a crutch”. I’m just resting a while on my imaginary friend because I need a bit of support. It’s a season. I won’t always need to rely on my imaginary friend. I’ll get over it.

The thing is though, Lucy is real. She’s flesh-and-blood and skin and feeling and thought and life and person. She just lives a long way away.

The things is, too, the big thing that I realised yesterday, that this is how a lot of people see God.

I know I won’t always be in this season, and that’s okay. And it’s okay that I am. And Lucy’s okay with me. But still I choose, and will continue to choose, that at that time in the future when I no longer need Lucy in my life the way that I do now, that we will still be friends, and I will still email her every now and again, even though she lives far away, too far away to see. Because, really, it’s not about a crutch, it’s about relationship.

What about you? Do you have any “imaginary” friends? Do you think God is a crutch, or do you know people who do?

All you need is love

Well, Monday’s post on guilt and parenting certainly struck a chord with people. We are not alone. Thank you to all who took the time to leave a comment or talk to me on Facebook or in person about it. It’s been a valuable discussion. Actually, it’s been a very profound discussion in some ways.

Last night I read a comment from Pat Bailey, and I hope she doesn’t mind but I’m going to quote it here: “What is funny is that all the guilt I carried around for YEARS about things done or not done – things that I knew scared my children for life and I would burn in hell for. Those were the things that my children didn’t remember, just gave me the “you got to be s##### me” look. Then they told me the things that I did that really hurt them, wounded them and I thought “you got to be s#### me.” So I guess I carried the wrong guilt around all those years which means I should have just given it up and let them lay the guilt on when they were ready. That guilt didn’t seem like a burden because I said I was really sorry, they said no big deal, and life goes on…”

I found that so profound that I copied it onto Facebook, and Debbie left me this response: “Megan, my mother shared with us at my dad’s funeral that he always regretted the time he overreacted to a ‘potty’ word from one of us when we were little. My sisters and I looked at each other and said, “It wasn’t me, it must have been you.” None of us remembered it. I think guilt gets worse when you age, unless of course, you can let it go.”

AND THEN…(it just gets better, folks), my friend Lisa left this comment on the blog too: “…Interestingly one of my colleagues, who is a child psychologist of many years experience,  told me recently that she read that children need a good parent for around 30% of the time and as long as the other 70% or so is not abusive or destructive they will be fine…”

For me this is hugely profound, and incredibly freeing.

Just yesterday I realised something about myself and the way I thought. I’ve been battling through a mindset shift for the better part of two years, some real foundational thinking that I got wrong many years ago. It was, of all things, a novel that showed me that I’d been wrong for all these years (and locking myself away and suffering in silence because of it), and the journey of accepting the truth has been as difficult and painful as it has been freeing and beautiful. Paradigm shifts are like that. But just yesterday I saw in my mind for the first time exactly when that thought had come in, the words that were used, the conversation, the chairs, the room, the clothes my friend was wearing. Sometimes memories are weird like that. He was wrong. I know that now. But he was also seventeen, and seventeen-year-olds are kind of known for not being altogether accurate on big theological or philosophical matters. It’s not his fault that my thinking about myself and the way I did life with people was skewed. I was in a vulnerable place at the time, and I’d pressured him for answers bigger than he could give. Then hot on the heels of that thought was another one, also from when I was seventeen, and this time it was ME handing out judgemental idealism with a good dose of heavy-handedness (ouch. Oh I’m glad to be not seventeen any more). There were probably more incidences as well…but that’s the one I remember. Ouch. Remembering that so close to the revelation of how big an impact my friend’s words had had on me was…confronting.

I wanted immediately to go write to her and apologise, hoping that her life and understanding of self hadn’t been limited by my rash words all those years ago. I didn’t. Maybe she’s forgotten. Maybe she hasn’t. Maybe I need to. In the end I prayed for forgiveness for myself, and asked God to release her from any baggage my stupid words had left her with.

And then this morning I read the comments I posted above. It’s the full circle. We all stuff up, pretty much all the time, somewhere. And, of all the responses, guilt is the least productive. There’s a bit in the bible that says “love covers over a multitude of sins”, which is kind of what Lisa’s child psychologist friend is saying too – so long as those sins aren’t abusive or destructive – we are doing okay.

So. Go love somebody today. Go shout your friend their coffee. Hug your kids. Say yes. Forgive yourself. Forgive someone else. Love yourself.

Go on, you deserve it.

5 Things My Friends Have Taught Me

If you stopped reading before the picture on Monday’s post you’ll have missed the most excellent and imagination-provoking tidbit of information that my friend Vacuums Her Dog. Yes, that IS what I thought when she first told me. She has a golden retriever, and it makes sense, after a fashion: you either wait for the dog to shed and you vacuum the carpet, or…you vacuum the dog. I found this so amazing I wrote about it on Facebook too, and she sent me a most valuable reply, offering the suggestion that it also works on children.

I like my friend. She is a wise woman, and not generally prone to random silliness (unlike me, and unlike certain soon-to-be pizza-shop owners I could mention), so…

I tried it.

Yes. I vacuumed my kid.

He’s three, not quite four. He’d crawled under the bed to rescue some long-lost thing, and returned with a large family of dust-bunnies adhered to his otherwise-clean jumper. It was in my hand, I was doing the rugs. I vacuumed him. He loved it.

It made me think, though. If it wasn’t for this birthday party on Sunday where we were talking about (oh heavens, I don’t even remember!) I wouldn’t have learned this valuable new form of child-maintenance. In fact, it made me remember that there are a lot of valuable life-lessons I missed out on growing up that my friends have helped with. You learn a lot from your friends.

  1. Vacuum your kid. I just explained that one.
  2. Give money away, heaps of it, until you don’t even think about it any more. I grew up stingy, and it took me a lot of years to change this. When people talked about giving I’d give what I could spare (and yes there’s wisdom in that don’t get me started on the importance of budgeting and financial responsibility, I am very much into these things!) – but I was poor in spirit. It wasn’t just the “spare” after the mortgage and the bills were paid, it was the “spare” after my extra cappuccino and perhaps a Danish as well. Until this one day in church when the offering bag came around, and the preacher was preaching on “give and it will be given unto you” stingy-me put in my cappuccino and Danish money, with the stingy prayer of “all right God, I want to see a ten-time return on this one please, because it’s going to be hard to get through work tomorrow” (this was a while ago, okay? I didn’t say I was proud of it). But tomorrow came. I lived without my cappuccino and Danish, and I felt okay, freed up by not having-to-have, and lighter (shut up, no pun intended). And that night someone we didn’t know very well gave us an envelope with $100 in it. For no reason other than “because”. We’ve been trying to pay it forward ever since. It’s changed our lives.
  3. Fold your washing while you’re taking it off the clothesline. I love this! My friend Tanya taught me this one. She folded hers while it was wet too, just to keep the wrinkles out, but I don’t go that far. But it works. By the time you get to putting the washing away (three days later…shut up) not only is it neatly folded, but there are no wrinkles and it doesn’t need ironing.
  4. Tell stories. Talk in random anecdotes at the bus stop. Share fun stuff. Share the sad stuff. Not only do people find themselves in your stories, it’s the best way to reach out and take someone’s hand, to say “I hear you. I know you.”
  5. Love extravagantly, it’s not free, but the cost is well worth it. Do I need to explain that one? I think not. But in the same way that that envelope with $100 all those years ago changed my financial life, so has the generous gift of time and words and love and coffees and crazy times from friends. I’m still working hard to pay it all forward.

How about you? What lessons in life did you learn first from friends? Do you think it’s worth vacuuming friends as well?

Loving people is a stupid idea

Love is dumb.

There. I’ve said it. Surely we have better things to do, like look after ourselves and our own. Makes me kind of wish we were like cats, or lions or something, you know: had babies, grew them up, killed animals, ate them, made babies, moved on, died. You don’t see cats getting all emotional because they wanted to share their kibble with the neighbour’s cat and the neighbour’s cat said no. You don’t see cats caring about much at all, actually.

Some people are like that. We can all, if the truth be told, be like that. We’re all selfish, demanding creatures who love salty food and warm beds and someone who shares the couch and lets us do our own things. It’s considered normal, and considered The Way Things Are.

That’s the way it was for me, really. Until some crazy lady did a Rachel Stewart number on me, and helped me when I’d fallen over in the middle of the race.

Rachel Who?

I don’t know if Rachel Stewart remembers the grade five athletics carnival. I don’t know if the friend she stopped for just before the end of the 100m sprint to help back to her feet again remembers the grade five athletics carnival either, but I do know that those two women, nearly thirty years later, are still friends. She stopped. Rachel Stewart was our fastest runner, and she stopped before the end to help her friend that was down. That’s love. That’s when you know that Rachel Stewart knew what meant more than some poxy ribbon on a pin.
That’s what love is.

She didn’t need to. Nobody needs to do a Rachel. In fact, Rachel Stewart didn’t need to do a Rachel, and when she did it it was Dumb dumb de dumb dumb, and she lost the race.

And once upon a time that crazy woman who did a Rachel on me knew what it meant as well. I drove her crazy. A few times. I probably put her through hell and back a few times as well, and I even did the famous SDCU* on her and decided that I’d stuffed things up so badly I could never ever love anybody again.

We do that. We all do that. We turn to our Rachel Stewarts and give them the finger and then we beat them in the next race and not think about it till it’s too late and we can only hope to God they might forgive us, and then we swear we’re never ever going to race again, poxy ribbon or no.

Tell you what, I’m glad that once upon a time God did a Rachel Stewart number on me. He did all right. And that’s the only reason I’m back lining up for the race at the moment.I’m back there on the old New Norfolk oval staring down the white lines on the grass and eyeing off the sports teacher holding the ribbon, and just a bit worried that that starter gun is a real one.

I’m going to run.
I’m looking at the people who are racing with me. None of us are that great, or that pretty, or that cool any more. And none of us are ever going to make the Olympics.
but together we’re running this race we call life, and this time I know, because I will always remember the ones who stopped for me, that no matter which one of us falls, I’M gonna be the one this time to stop and do a Rachel.

Care to join me?

*Super-dooper cock-up. See the last blog post.

And on the subjectof mistakes…

There’s this bit in the Bible that says (basically) when we stuff up we know about it because our conscience tells us so. And if we don’t feel it in our conscience then (unless we’re loony psychopaths – okay, that’s my addition, not the Bible) we’re probably okay, and we don’t need to worry.

Easy, eh? It’s a built-in kind of self-regulator. We stuff up, we feel bad, we say sorry, we get forgiven, we move on.

Got that? Right.

Well, here’s my True Confession:

About ten years ago I made a stuff up so bad it could only be described as a Super-Dooper-Cock-Up (to be henceforth known as the SDCU). It was bad. I felt terrible, and it broke apart one of the most beautiful friendships I’ve ever known. Yes, it was that bad.

Ten years.

She forgave me, kind of, and I forgave myself, kind of. But the trouble with SDCUs, and especially for people with long memories (like me) is that I could never really let it go. How could I have been so dumb? Even worse, how could I have been so dumb and been so convinced of my rightness for so long? How could I have ignored what must have been thumping in my conscience?

I didn’t really tell anyone at the time. Mostly because the one person I would normally have told was the person I’d just done a SDCU number on, and I couldn’t be in the same room as her any more without crying. It was that bad. I knew what I’d done wrong, the memory of my stupidity wouldn’t leave me, and I vowed never to do it again.

The thing is though, we move on. Time heals, and even the biggest SDCUs get papered over in the rooms of our memories, till all they are is a lump in the fabric, a scar where a wound used to be, and that’s pretty normal. You learn to live with these things, and you learn not to put yourself in situations where you’ll do the same thing again. It’s okay. Even SDCUs are okay when you can learn from them.

A few months ago, however, I was praying and God dropped this thought in my spirit, this thing that I just had to do, and, like most times when God tells people to do something, it freaked me out completely, and the only thing I could think was “But God…I can’t.”

Come on God, seriously. Don’t you remember about the SDCU?

And that’s when I realized.

It wasn’t my conscience condemning me at all. It wasn’t God. It was me.

There absolutely WAS a Super-Dooper Cock-Up: but it wasn’t the dumb thing I did to my friend. That was forgivable, and should have been moved on from years ago. No. The real SDCU was not talking about it to anyone, and allowing the guilt to stop me from reaching out to anyone for ten years. For that I’m truly sorry.

That’s why I’ve made my July 2012 resolution: I’m going to keep talking about how I’m feeling, and I’m going to keep blogging. Stuff-ups happen. All the time. We’re ridiculously human. But it’s only when we start admitting our faults to others and listening to our consciences rather than our emotions that we can really stop the cycle of the SDCU. What do you think? It’s scary, but do you care to join me in this big endeavour?