(Long post, you’ve been warned.)

This past Saturday, my family went tubing on a nearby river. Four glorious hours of us and the water. Now before we left the building, everyone in my family put on sunscreen. Except me. Yep, I’m that smart. My reasoning was that I wanted some color so I don’t glow in the dark (thanks, Irish genes) and I haven’t burned or tanned in years. Besides, I had a bit on my face, and the sunscreen we purchased was like paste.

It was chilly when we started, a balmy 65* with the water not feeling any warmer, but the day warmed to about 75* by the afternoon and we were all quite content. And by the time we got out, we realized we all (including those with sunscreen applied twice, thank you very much) burned a bit. My poor sister, Fae, has the fair Irish complexion with red hair to match. She burns like an egg in a pan. My brother, Aiden, has more of the Scottish complexion with darker red hair and skin that tans. Little jerk. I mean, of course he burns too, but it always darkens to a tan that we are all jealous of. Which brings us to me.

When I was little, I tanned the first day outside. My hair bleached to the color of cornsilk, and my skin showed that little drop of Native American blood I have in my family. Then, I hit about 14, and it went away. It was like my body said “Wait. Is that Irish blood? Oh no! No tanning for you! Nope!” And thus it has stayed. No burns, no tans for years. Until this weekend. My legs are now two steps away from sun poisoning. The scale apparently goes

  • Light pink glow
  • Red, ouch
  • Burned Tomato
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Sun poisoning

I’m at “swelling.” It’s been a few days now, and I still have cankles. *Sigh* But, I don’t glow anymore, and the rest of me pretty much came out okay. I don’t really burn badly anyway. My shoulders are slightly pink, and a spot where my suit had slid away was at the “Red, ouch” stage. Otherwise, nothing. Poor legs.

Now this may seem like a strange segway, but the sun poisoning got me thinking a bit about other toxins in our life. The sun provides us warmth and vitamins that we need. Without them, we get depressed (Hello, Michigan winter). However, too much of the same sun can also seriously harm us.

Relationships are the same way. Be they friends or family, we have to learn to recognize the toxins and remove them from our lives. Our Youth/Associate Pastor, Matt, has discussed this many times, and recently I’ve been attempting to recognize toxic relationships in my life.

About two years ago, I found myself somewhat alone. Phoebe and I have never had a fight, but occasionally we drift apart for awhile when school, work, and life demand it. This was one such time. At the same time, I found that Aiden’s best friend’s older sister was in the same situation. Emily was best friends with Jo and Fay for the first few years we were at our church. This was until Fay and Emily had a falling out at an event, and Emily drifted away. Emily is sweet, but spoiled, and has been taught to grow up as quickly as possible her whole life. Her family encourages them dressing, acting, and attempting to always be older than they were. She’s also a few years younger than me, so until recently, we never would have spent time together anyway, simply due to the difference in maturity.

But during this time, we started hanging out and having discussions about shared interests and differing opinions. Very quickly we discussed our mutual desire to study abroad, but our inability to afford such a trip. $5k + tuition and you’re required to take at least 2 classes most of the time. My mom suggested we hang the tuition part, and just go by ourselves. This costs about $5k total, and Emily jumped on the idea. The trip was planned by August, and we started raising funds to go to Europe in the following June.

By March, I realized there was a problem. I love Emily’s family dearly, and they took excellent care of me and treat me with respect, but we have very different values. Also, the father and Emily both are never wrong. Never. It’s just the way it is. This came to a head when one incident occurred specifically. Emily sat me down and told me very kindly that I had a tendency to brush off her ideas and make her feel her contributions were unwelcome. This was entirely unintentional, but often my “thinking face” makes people think I dislike something or don’t care. I apologized and told her I would try to make sure she knew I appreciated her contributions. Which I did.

But Emily is never in the wrong. She wasn’t in the spat with Fay, and she wasn’t in anything else either. And by this time, I realized¬†something was wrong, but the trip was coming up fast.

So we went, and had a glorious time. She did everything she wanted to, and bullied me into skipping a few things because she felt “sick.” Her family self-diagnoses, leading them to believe wholeheartedly that their 19-year-old daughter has Fibromyalgia. Emily plays sick frequently, and her mother encourages nursing even the smallest headache or stomachache, even if it means letting others down. If a plan went sour, it was my fault, and I had to fix it. Convenient since she made me do much of the travel plans, despite my failings. Thus, she could never be blamed, and I was frequently at fault. And at first, I sincerely thought certain things were my fault.

They weren’t. Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic time, and I don’t regret anything except not realizing sooner that she was manipulative. We still talk, but we realized her family lies frequently, and they rarely come to church anymore. They’re secret keepers. Everything is a secret, even the dumbest things like moving to a new condo. They complain about her difficulty keeping friends, calling the friends toxic while I silently scream “It’s her!! Recognize the pattern!” Supposedly they are planning to move out West, but they’ve moved the timeframe of this 6 times. Despite claiming to be conservative, they watch things I wouldn’t dream of exposing myself to, and don’t see anything wrong with it.

So, I quietly, slowly, severed the ties. Toxic.

My first (and to date, only) boyfriend is a topic I will seldom discuss here for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he’s Phoebe’s brother, Eli. We are on good terms now and talk frequently, but often tone and intention don’t come across on a screen, and I don’t want to sound like the nasty ex when I really am not. However, this topic started 5 years ago when we were dating.

I ended things with Eli because our relationship had turned toxic. I didn’t have my heart in it anymore, which wasn’t fair to him. Symbiotic relationships mean that both parties benefit equally, and we weren’t. I was actually sitting in Communication 111 when the topic of toxic relationships came up…and I could check off many items on the list. I tried justifying many of them but realized that that was exactly what made it toxic, so I stopped. We’ve since both agreed that it wasn’t working, and now we talk regularly as friends; I help him with college, he understands my recent bouts of anxiety and panic attacks. But the dating part was toxic.

People think toxic relationships are obvious, in your face, relationships: abusive husbands, manipulative girlfriends, jealous spouses. But often, it’s more subtle. We have to step back and examine our relationships with people to understand who is toxic, and who is not. Phoebe and I, unless I’m mistaken (she’ll smack me later), have a symbiotic relationship.¬†We both benefit, and we both take responsibility for the crappy stuff. Toxic relationships are subtle. Things that seem like no big deal, but actually point to a much deeper problem. Selfishness, arrogance, jealousy, all of them can be manifested in little actions.

The Bible talks about iron sharpening iron. Bro. Matt discusses frequently how who we are with affects who we are and how we behave. So, because of this, I’m applying sunscreen to my relationships. I’m cutting out the toxic ones as much as possible, because I don’t like who I am when I’m in them. I’m keeping the iron, and getting rid of the wood. Aloe & tea for the current toxins, sunscreen to prevent future burns without preventing the vitamins and warmth. I need the vitamins and warmth, the good relationships that bolster me and keep me going. I’m simply doing my best to block the bad ones from burning.