This was originally published at Prodigal Magazine, which ended sometime in 2014. I have reprinted the post in its entirety here.
It's funny the things you miss when you move out of state. I spent a long Christmas vacation back in my hometown, well into the New Year, and this meant Birthday Cake. It had been at least three years since my favorite cake passed my lips.
My last Friday in town, Mom made the Angel Food cake with caramelized sweetened condensed milk and whipped cream. I've never encountered it outside of family gatherings but it is a most holy concoction.
Mom lit three candles in the cake instead of the requisite 33 and then my parents serenaded me with Happy Birthday, the room lit only by the glowing candles. Mom sang it straight, while Dad supplemented with strange noises and off timing, ensuring my laughter for the duration of the song.
I wanted to stay in this moment: the glow of the candles, good food, exquisite cake, my parents' love for me. All this drew me in. I leaned forward to blow out the candles. The faint warmth of the flame tickled my cheeks. And then poof. The flames out, the dining room lights flipped back on, the cake ready to be served. I still felt lit from within. I savored each bite of cake. I reflected on the year to come, the goals I seek, and the woman I want to be.
I saw quite a few friends while back home. One in particular makes you feel better about yourself and life whenever you're around them. I've described Karin this way as long as I've known her. I've wondered how people described me. Did people feel better about themselves after spending time with me? Or was I someone to see out of obligation?
It is hard to accurately see oneself. I hope people walk away from me feeling lighter in spirit but I no longer know for sure. About 6 months ago I ended a friendship. While I've enforced boundaries here and there, I've never had to cut someone off altogether. It felt like a break-up and I often couldn't believe what needed to be done.
I love getting to know people and hearing their stories. I have a wide group of friends from all corners of my life. I also have a small inner circle. These are the few to whom I entrust my secrets and deepest dreams. These are the friends of a lifetime. I still do not understand what happened to this particular friend, one of the inner circle. How her personality and very demeanor morphed into someone I no longer recognized.
Before I moved to Nashville, I began dreading our interactions, knowing it would be filled with a litany of complaints and I would walk away heart heavy. Any attempt to open her eyes to her increasing negativity, even about good things, backfired. After I moved, I thought the friendship would ebb away, only for her to heap unrealistic expectations upon me. Even so, I didn't want to take the hard stance until there was no other choice.
The situation made me doubt my keen sense of discernment. Had I missed something when we first met or had she changed along the way? It made me question how others viewed me. Did I react to her negativity a la the pot calling the kettle black? After much soul-searching and prayer, I don't think so. But there's always room for improvement.
I don't want to be a drain on the people in my life, whether friend or family, acquaintance or stranger. I want to be the light beckoning people closer, even if just a brief interaction. To be a blessing instead of a curse, to infuse hope instead of frustration.
Poet David Whyte wrote, “There is no house like the house of belonging.” A gorgeous poem through and through, that particular line stands out. I am not a house, it's true. I can, however, love people. I can cultivate a sense of belonging in my community. Whether it's taking time to ask the Publix cashier about her day or spending a few hours listening to a friend, I can belong in the moment.
I can let Christ's love shine through me. I can be the whisper of a flame shining forth.
May it be so.