I can feel it trying to settle in. An old friend that’s been around as long as I remember. Even as I typed that last sentence, I wondered, is that true? Has it really been this way as long as I can remember? And yes, it sure has always been this way. 

My birthday is mid-month. And the beginning of August is always the tipping point of a downhill slide for me. An underlying bubbling that sometimes just simmers and sometimes boils over. It depends really on how much attention I can pay to it or not and how the world around me is going. The steepness of the hill depends nothing on who loves me or doesn’t. Neither does it depend on on who calls me a friend and who calls me an enemy. The boiling point can come from a benign event that would have anyone scratching their head or a major upheaval of a wound I’ve been tending to.

The issue? August ushers in my birthday, then school begins and holidays follow. All things that remind me of the short stick I was dealt in the family circle outside of my husband and children. And beyond that, the deep and cavernous scars that were left behind because of them. This time of year always makes me keenly aware of anything left unhealed. A burr hiding somewhere or an ache that’s been causing a flinch. I’m more sensitive to slights and more keenly aware of those around me gushing over motherly attention or adorable moments with their fathers. 

I’ve learned to be a steadfast ship in a sea without the network of family stretched out before me to navigate my way. While those around me are anchored to this boat or that before them. With strong ropes they are tied to vast ships and massive vessels, I string behind me two boys and a husband. That is all and everything I can depend on. 

Some days it feels like I’m setting forth into a night sky that’s navy dark and barely speckled with stars. Other days the sun is bright and blinding me. 

Sometimes it feels as though I’m forging a new path through a meadow lined with wild flowers and other days I’m picking my way through a battlefield of fallen participants. 

Either way, the battle settles in here, this time year. This time of year for family. Where people who say “you’re like family” no longer mean it because their actual family is present. Kind words that turn into hurtful weapons. It's lonely and overwhelming at times. I grieve not for the fact that I don't have an extended family.  I grieve for the fact that others do. I don't miss my parents or extended family, I worked hard to untangle that unhealthy mess, I miss what I *could* have had.  Once I get settled into heaven, the Lord and I will discuss it at length I am sure.  

This kind of life, planting a new family tree, is not an easy one in any way.  You have to stand up to so much judgment and comments ignorant of true understanding.  Your spouse can only do so much for you.  They are meant to fill the spouse sized holes and nothing more.  Your kids are the same, meant to fill the voids they are destined to.  

That's what people don't understand.  You can "just look at what you have and be so grateful", but it doesn't fill the vast caverns that are beyond.  They can echo hollow with pain every time you recall them while simultaneously your "what you do have" caverns bubble over with Joy.  You can grieve and be filled with Joy at the same time.  It's a wonder of the human heart. 

Why do I share all of this? One simple reason: solidarity.  I know I'm not the only ship in sea that feels alone and charting a whole new course.  I know there are others out there searching the horizons, too.  I know others need to see a flare shot into the night sky to know they aren't alone and to remind them that because we are taking this route, our kids won't have to.  Our kids will be able to look back and see steadfast ships tethered behind them and one day know the pains we endured to anchor them there. 


"Every branch that is grape-bearing, He prunes back so that it will bear even more fruit."
John 15:2

Pruning in the garden seems to go against out instincts, doesn't it? I mean, the whole point of gardening is to GROW things and not make them smaller.  But the fact is, I haven't met a plant yet that doesn't do much better in the long run after a good pruning.  Pruning in relationships is the same way.  Sometimes painful, sometimes a learning experience and sometimes necessary to become the best people we can be.  I haven't met a person yet that doesn't do much better in the long run after a good pruning.  

Just like in life, sometimes the pruning has to be severe.  Every branch and stem that extends past the horizon of the soil is cut back.  No mercy given to any of them.  This is often the case when a plant is seriously diseased or needs to hibernate in the ground to reboot for a bit. There is no room in our short lives for toxic relationships.  They are the ones most needing the severe pruning.  You may have tried to trim a branch here or there only to have the disease come back in full force before too long. Maybe you made some distance between you and that person you know isn't being good to you only to find them doing the same old things to keep you from being the best version of yourself.  When trimming these people, they often resist.  Chances are good they were benefitting form your lack of appropriate care.  The pests and critters usually do.  They want their free meal and to pay no mind to the havoc they wreck on you in the meantime. Ignore this kind of pruning and death is sure to follow. Nature calls for it and she can't be ignored. 

Sometimes, as mentioned above, just a little trim is needed.  A branch here to there to retain the true shape of the plant.  The people we spend the most time with are the ones we most act like and become like.  If we have a friend pulling us off in a direction that's unhealthy and goes against what we are hearing from everyone else or that we know isn't good for us, that friend needs a little trim without delay.  Maybe you still spend time with them, but not alone.  Maybe you limit your contact to group settings or once a month for coffee.  Whatever it is, they've let you know that they can't have too much free reign in your life or they will misshape your whole personhood. That one crazy branch jutting off to the side will eventually make you feel lopsided and uncentered.  It will cause conflict, confusion and struggle in the rest of your circle because you are allowing an unhealthy branch to have too much power.  They can be poisoners to the whole plant/self if we don't trim as needed. 

Then there's the gentle pruning of deadheading.  This is when you take the dead and spent blooms off of the plant to ensure a healthy second blooming.  These are the friends that celebrate that first bloom and then say to you "Now what? I know you can do it again and even more beautifully".  This kind of pruning isn't as much of trimming of the unhealthy, but more like encouraging continued growth.  These friends take the time to acknowledge the achievement but don't let us hang out there for too long, lest we lose our momentum. Celebrating and not lingering in the past too long is fine line.  We are creatures of forward momentum and the longer we stay hung up on the past (old blooms), the more energy we lose there. Often times trimming one spent bloom creates multiple future blooms.  If left there to whither away on it's own, it may not bloom again.  This gently pruning is as necessary to growth as the severe and the little trim.  

Do we want to be our best selves? Then we need to get acquainted with the shears and how to use them. The Lord is clear about all sorts of relationships and what they should look like.  We aren't called to martyr ourselves for the sake of others that only results in the death and unhealthy existence of two people and not just one. Don't fear the shearing, look forward to the growth.
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