I did not do anything that I wanted to do today.
I thought Ryan and I would have a whole play day. We flew in late last night and fly out again tomorrow morning. Today I was going to get a massage. Maybe a pedicure. I was going to read a book. I am reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I thought we would go see a movie. Crazy Heart is the movie I wanted to see. Eat a long lunch. And go shopping for bathing suits (we leave on our first ever K-Love cruise Monday morning! Thank you, thank you, thank you K-Love!).
But here I am in Starbucks and all we have done is eat lunch. Ryan had band errands that took him longer than he thought and we didn't get out of the house until 12:15 or so. We only have the grandparents until 3 o'clock and after eating and catching up on a few emails all I have left is an hour. No down time. No book. No Movie. No Shopping. No massage.
A few years ago I would have been down in the dumps, angry, or just bitter at life after a day like today because it has not gone the way I wanted it to go. I would have been disappointed.
But now, after oh so many years of therapy, days like today are a bit easier to swallow because my expectations have changed. And our expectations play a huge role in the way we live or lives.
Truth is, my plans rarely work out. The expectations I have for my day, for certain people in my life, for the good guy to win, for my closest circle of family and friends to be happy and healthy, and for the world to work in tandem with my dreams rarely happens. Statistically my expectations have about a 95% failure rate! Seriously. Over the course of a lifetime I have realized that I am a dreamer with big plans, high hopes, ambitious schedules, and a penchant for wanting to self-indulge as often as possible. Mix that up with the fact that I forget about details like traffic, construction, clocks, lack of money, human error, set-up and tear-down times, getting stuck on the runway, less passionate people than myself and cashiers that might move extra slow and you have a recipe for a lot of unmet expectations and plans.
You have a girl who, for a very long time, felt like the precious free moments of her life (and the people who influenced those moments) were constantly letting her down. Constantly.
Nothing EVER goes the way I want it to.
A mean dog story
My counselor told me a story about a little girl and a dog. The little girl lives next door to this very cute dog. She wants the dog to like her so everyday she goes to the fence and tries to talk to the dog and pet him. And everyday the dog barks and barks. Growls and growls. Chomps and chomps. He is a mean dog. He does not like her. He did not like her yesterday. He does not like her today. And if the world works the way it usually does, this dog is not going to like her tomorrow.
Still, she presses on, desperate for the dog to be her friend.
And every morning she goes and sticks her fingers through that fence and every morning that mean dog is still very mean.
One day the dog bites her fingers off.
And she bleeds to death and dies.
OK. Well, my counselor didn't say that. I just thought it'd be funny if she died from the blood loss because of a mean stupid dog. But he did bite her fingers off.
Here's the question we have to ask though: Did she lose her fingers because of the dog or did she lose them because of herself?
A few years ago I told my counselor that she lost them because of the dog. He was mean. He bit her fingers off. He attacked her. He never would be nice. He wouldn't like the little girl no matter how hard she tried and he was to blame for that. That dog was mean and stupid and left the girl hand less. Bad dog. I hate dogs.
My counselor's response?
"Jenny, that girl lost her fingers because she refused to acknowledge reality. It was her fault the dog bit her. It was her fault that she was hurt over and over again everyday. It was her responsibility to make a logical decision about that dog and she refused to do so. So she lost her fingers. The dog was innocent. That little girl was completely to blame for what happened to her because even though she knew the dog was mean, but she refused to accept that as reality."
"Jenny, you are that little girl."
Ouch. At least she didn't call me the dog, right? Let me make sure you understand what I am saying because this theory makes HALT look like a kindergarten tool.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as, "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
That means that in the story with the dog, the dog is not to blame; the little girl is. The dog was consistent. He was consistently mean and angry and violent. His behavior was typical. Should the dog be mean? No. Should the dog bite fingers? No. Is the dog a nice dog? No. But those are not questions that the little girl gets to answer or decide. The dog is being who the dog is... it's not her job, her right, or her Christian duty to make that dog nice. First you have to realize that. You cannot change the behavior of someone else. You cannot change the outcome of something or someone that is out of your control (i.e. your day, your companies decisions, or any human being).
So now she has a choice: Do I let the dog be? Or do I continue to go back to the dog, day after day, hoping that he has changed?
Well, Albert Einstein, and a whole bunch or really smart shrinks would tell you that by going back to the dog you are essentially exhibiting behaviors of someone who is in insane. That's not fun to hear is it? Your actions are INSANE. You are to blame. You are responsible for yourself and YOU are harming yourself... the dog doesn't have power to hurt you.
That's not Fair
I was so mad at this story. I was so mad at this shrink theory. I was so mad at my counselor.
I could feel myself getting angry as she looked me in the eyes and said, "Jenny, why do you keep going back to a dog who has consistently shown you they want nothing to do with you? This is not about the dog. It's not the dog's fault anymore. It's yours. You are the one that keeps going back. You are doing something insane. You are responsible for your own hurt."
When you are in real therapy, those are the kind of sessions that make you get back in your car and claw at your steering wheel, punch the seat next to you, scream profanity, and then drive to Taco Bell to gorge on something nasty and horrible for you.
Therapy is hard. It is the hard road. It is the high road. It is the road less traveled for a reason.
Essentially what this lady told me was this: There are these people in your life who are consistently the same. Be it lazy. Angry. Mean. Or uninterested in you. People that don't love you the way you want to be loved. They are consistent, yet you keep hoping they will change. You keep hoping for a different outcome. You keep hoping their behavior will magically transform itself out of their love for you. You keep walking into these people and relationships with unrealistic expectations. You really think, deep down inside, that one day things will be different. And when they aren't, when the dog barks at you and tries to bite your fingers off, you get mad at the dog all over again and end up hurt. You are constantly hurt because you refuse to accept reality. Your expectations are based on your own faulty wishes.
So do you want this to be your life?
Creeping up to a fence every single day hoping that today you won't lose your fingers? Or will you accept these people and situations for what they are and change your expectations of them?
Changing my expectations was a very hard thing to do. And for so long it just felt unfair. BUT I WANT TO HAVE THE PERFECT DAY. I WANT TO HAVE THE PERFECT FAMILY. I WANT TO HAVE________.
It's not fair that they have the power to ruin everything!
I had to learn that they only had the power because I gave it to them. You give people power by expecting change instead of accepting reality. I wanted things to be better in my relationships but I did not account for the fact that the other party had to be aware of the same thing and desire it as well. I was walking to the fence waiting on someone to come that didn't exist. There was no willing participant on the other side, only me and my hopes that the person would show up. Instead, I usually met an angry dog. And I left sad and hurting that it was still the same old dog.
So one day I decided...
Today is the day I will not walk to the fence.
Today I will say good-bye.
And I stood and looked at the fence and felt sick to my stomach. I felt such deep loss that it hurt. And then I cried every tear I had in me to cry. And I started the process of mourning what would never be.
Today I will look at the little dog and I will hurt because I want that little dog to love me so bad, but I know he will not. I know he will only hurt me. So today I will not walk over to him. Today I will protect myself. Today I will pour my energy and heart and desires into something or someone else. Today I will let go of something I've wanted for so long, and it will hurt, I will mourn the loss of what could not be, but today I will not let the dog hurt me, because today I finally realize that HE WILL...
and there is nothing I can do to stop him except stop myself.
Real World Please?
If you've made it this far you might want to know what this practically looks like. You might also want to know how Jesus plays into this whole bit.
I had a friend confess to me that she hated Christmas. She said that every year her family just fought and she ended up screaming at people and becoming this person that she did not like. She hated Christmas because she deeply loved Christmas and had this dream of what the perfect Christmas would be like... her family was not it.
So you apply the dog story and the definition of insanity to the situation (whatever it may be). Has Christmas ever been what you dreamed of? No. Has your family shown any indication that they are capable of having a happy, healthy, joyous Christmas under one roof? No. Has history repeated itself? Absolutely. Well, unless everyone has a come to Jesus and go to a therapist moment, chances are this Christmas is going to be the same. That dog is gonna bite.
Just understanding that much sets you up for success. It is disappointing and it hurts and you might cry your guts out, but the first thing my friend has to do is accept the fact that unless a miracle happens (and miracles do happen... they're called hard work!), her families Christmas is not going to be what she dreamed of. Her family is inherently incapable of meeting her needs. So now the ball is in her court... will she go into the holidays hoping for something that is not going to happen? Having unrealistic expectations and hoping they will meet her needs even though they have proven they cannot? Or will she say good-bye to those dreams and accept reality?
Here is what she might say to herself: My family doesn't function well and this Christmas I will not expect anything to be different. If it is different then it will be a great, unexpected, beautiful gift. However, if it is not different, I will not cry myself to sleep and swear off the holidays and battle depression for the next three weeks because I know what to expect and I accept that. My family has shown what they can give me. And I will respond accordingly to what they are able to give; not to what I wish they could give. I will protect myself from my own unrealistic expectations. God give me the courage to be fulfilled by you and you alone. Give me the wisdom to stay away from the fence. Be my family when my family is not the one I dreamed of.
Yes, there are disclaimers. This does not mean you give up on people. This does not mean you get angry and bitter; writing the person off as a lost cause. This does not mean that you do not hope and believe that Jesus can change hearts, lives, families, relationships, and really crummy days where nothing seems to go write. This does not mean checking out and not investing into the people in your life. And it does not mean turning into an escape artist who withdraws into their own little world so that the world they are in can't hurt them. Those would all be pretty unhealthy things as well.
This is just the jumping off point for someone like me who lived with unrealistic expectations for a long time and did not even know it. This is a place where you can say... "Oh, maybe ______ will never change." Maybe I need to change! Maybe I don't need to get near an electric fence with a rabbid dog waiting to chew my fingers off! Maybe I should be more careful. Protect myself. Be wise about people's limitations. Maybe I should ask God to help me let go of some of these things I have always dreamed about but continually find myself hurt over because they never happen.
So my day wasn't perfect. It's 7:00 p.m. and I am just not getting a chance to sit down and finish this blog. Since I left off a huge rainstorm has come through Dallas and I was not able to pick up Annie and go get a bathing suit like I had hoped. And, Annie fell off the couch while I wasn't watching and landed on her head and cut her leg. And then, to top it all off, when I went to pick her up, apparently she pooped through a whole diaper, down into her pants and toes and onto the couch...
But I don't expect perfect days anymore. I don't expect normalcy. I used to. I longed for it. I hungered for it. I woke up and wrote down my list for the day and cried and cursed as the entire plan unraveled. And then I realized I was being insane. My life is chaos. It has always been that way and has not shown me any indication that it will not be that way....
So now I expect it. I roll with it. And I don't cry myself to sleep over it. I just look at that dog and say, "MEAN STUPID DOG I HATE YOU!!!" And then go on with my day. That dog's never gonna change.
But I can.