Stepping on Other People’s Pillows

I recently read a post on Donald Miller’s blog entitled, “How to Spot A Controlling Person (Even If It’s You)”. I follow Miller and his Storyline blog on Facebook and I love how gut-wrenching most of the posts from his blog are; they give me so much to think about, pray about and consider, both good and challenging. So I clicked on that post and thought “this should be interesting”.

I’ve recently realized that I struggle with a deep desire for control. Only when I casually noticed it did I start to truly pay attention to the moments in my day when I feel angry or hurt, wounded or even happy and how often it comes from a met/unmet area I desire to have control over. (Psssssttt….which is all the areas all the times.)

Miller described this analogy his therapist gave to him during a session in which she observed him as he verbally processed a person he was unwittingly trying to control. Here’s his description of it:

“She put three large couch pillows on the floor and stood on one of the outside cushions. She then had me stand on the other outside cushion so there was an empty cushion between us.

“This is my pillow” she said, “and that is yours. This is my life and that is yours. The pillow in the middle represents our relationship. So, my responsibility is all about the pillow I’m standing on and yours is about yours. Together, we are responsible for the relationship. But at no point should I be stepping on your pillow.”

Miller went on to explain what his therapist meant and how we cannot change another persons’ choices about how they respond to something or how they think/feel about something. We can only change ourselves and how we are going to choose to respond to the relationship we have with the person we share that middle pillow with.

Whoa. That’s when I realized, I step on people’s pillows a LOT.

To add insult to injury, I attended a training session this weekend for leaders. A therapist and friend of mine gave a presentation on growth and how it happens, what stops it, etc. She touched on this topic of controlling (and referenced all those deep things like the ego/true self) and gave this amazing statement that I can’t stop from rolling around in my head.

She said, of controlling, that when we control/attempt to control someone, we are in essence saying to them, “I need you to be me, so that I can be me”.  When a much more healthy statement/the opposite would be, “we need you to be you, so that we can be we”.

Is your mind blown? Go ahead. I’ll wait here while you go re-read this whole post and come back to this point.

Ready to move on?

Ok, so I was talking about this with my good friend and telling her how blown my mind was and how up-ended my heart felt as I came to all these realizations. She responded to me regarding the pillow analogy that she just wants to ignore the pillow stepping thing and call herself a pillow “fluffer”. She said, “can’t I just maybe fluff your pillow a little? I’ve noticed it’s a bit lopsided…..”

I laughed at the honesty of her joke. It’s so hard not to do this! I was raised with so many guilt trips that I have frequent flyer miles to last me my whole life. My family has jedi-master level skills at control. My story is full of times in my childhood when I felt unprotected, unseen and unheard, so big surprise that I want to control my environment and even the people who are in it. I may not be able to depend on anyone else, but by golly I can depend on me! (Cue super hero music!)

Nope. I can’t even depend on me. I’m not enough. I know better!

Miller ends his blog by reminding his readers that people get to make their own choices and we shouldn’t feel personally responsible for their choices. All we can do is stay on our own pillow and make our own choice. This is SO HARD for me. I want to be loved and seen and known, I want to be successful and I want to be happy and somehow along the way, I picked up the idea that if I can just be in control of all the things, then I can achieve those things.

As I’ve wrestled through seeing this in myself lately, all sorts of things have gone wrong in my day. As each little piece falls and I throw my grown-up sized temper tantrum about it, I am reminded that it’s my choice how I will respond. It’s not my fault or my responsibility that that thing fell (though sometimes it is and I have to wade through that as well). I have to talk myself through this piece so heavily. But ultimately what is my choice, and mine alone, is how I am going to respond – and fluffing, or all-out standing on that person’s pillow is off limits.

I have a feeling I will be asking myself a lot of questions the next time I get mad.


When It All Goes Awry

This weekend has been lovingly dreamed up for months now. My best friend lives in Seattle. I live in St. Louis.  We met almost 9 years ago. She was Jesus’s most precious gift to me in a season of life where I was lonely and afraid and very far from home and everyone who knew me.

We lived and re-discovered our lives together for 4+ years out in the Pacific Northwest as new moms who had recently quit our careers to be official SAHMs. She helped me give birth to my second child, I cried with her through her long adoption process, her husband babysat my colicky child while my husband was deployed in Afghanistan and I was overwhelmed as a geographically single mom. We got in shape together and learned to eat healthy, we made up whole new words and phrases for our lives together. We call ourselves the “NevCalfes”, a combination of both our last names. We’re tight guys.

So each year, we work hard to make at least one visit possible. Our husbands and Moms and Mom-in-Laws all work to support and help us make these trips a reality. And this weekend was one such trip. We haven’t seen each other since February of 2015 (it’s January of 2016!). This is our girls weekend in the frigid mid-west.

But it all went awry on Friday night. My husband and I brought my bestie to our new favorite mexican restaurant close to our house. I drank more than I intended to (due to laughing and not paying attention to what our waiter was asking me). It was SO fun. After dinner, we went back home, dropped off my family, gave kisses and hugs and loaded up my minivan to head out to our fun hotel for the weekend. However. By the time we got checked in to the hotel, my friend was not feeling her best. She has a sensitive tummy so we weren’t sure if it was just a little thing or the signs of something bigger to come. We laid low just in case…

And then, it hit her. Like a ton of bricks. Food poisoning.


If you have had a horrible case of food poisoning-just think of the worst kind you can have-and maybe multiply it by 2. That’s my bestie in our hotel last night. I ran to Walgreens at midnight in search of activated charcoal. I found something close but not the same as what I have on hand at home for such violent times. She was in the bathroom every 15 minutes all night long.


Sometimes, things just go awry. Life doesn’t follow the script of our expectations. She’s going to be ok. And one day far away, we will laugh about how awful this was. That Mexican place is so off the list of favorite places. They are dead to me.

The good news is that we realized her plane doesn’t leave early in the morning tomorrow like we thought; it leaves in the late evening! WAHOO! I’m holding out hope that we can salvage some fun, but if not, it doesn’t really matter. I would rather be with her while she is sick as a dog, rubbing her back and telling her I’m sorry-bringing her ice water and activated charcoal-than hearing she’s sick over text and not being able to do anything for her.

Even in this time where our fun trip has gone down in unexpected ways, I cherish this woman. If she’d let me I would totally hold her hair back while she puked. But she won’t let me, so I will just turn my music up really loud so she’s not embarrassed. And I remind her that she’s seen all of my 10,000 parts as I squeeze a baby out of my body. We’re cool like that…

As life throws it’s curve-balls at us, all we can really do is make the best of each situation. My prayer is that God would speed her healing (because planes and upset tummies do NOT mix), that we would be able to laugh through this and still enjoy the company of one another. There are very few women I feel this safe being with. I’m so grateful for her even in this time.

It’s our choice when things go awry. The situation is often what you choose to make it. So I think I’ll go grab some flowers and dry toast and hug on my friend while I can.