The call that changed my life and broke my heart

grief pic 1

I will never forget where I was when I got the call.  My breath was labored and I held on to my stomach tightly as if it were going to escape out of my body, my hand serving as the last line of defense.  The voice on the phone, a female police officer, filled me in on procedural matters since I was the one who made the initial report.  As she talked, I searched for hope in her voice. I yearned for her to use the word “attempt” or “false alarm”.  I didn’t know if it actually happened, only that it could have. I prayed it didn’t, but deep down, I knew.  The officer was talking with such sterility and dispassion, even annoyance.  Just another day at the office, I thought.  I needed to hear her say the words.

I mustered up the courage to interrupt her detached protocol and interject the question I never wanted to ask.  “Wait. I just… Are you saying she’s dead?” My voice was filled with a desperation I could not mask despite my efforts at remaining professional. “Oh, I’m sorry.” she replied in an embarrassed tone.  “I should have… Yes, her attempt was successful.  She’s dead.” I doubled over in pain, my hand once again trying to push my insides back in my stomach.  I wanted to fall down.  I wanted to throw up.  I wanted to disappear.  This can’t be a real, I repeated to myself over and over again.

Wake me from this nightmare.

But I wasn’t sleeping.  It was real.  And it was excruciating.  Everything felt like a fog, but one thought rang out through the haze.  I will never be the same again.  I never wanted to be the same.

 


 

There are moments in life- frozen seconds of time- that define and change us.  Experiences that cause life to be divided into two parts: before and after.  The day my client committed suicide was one of those days for me.  As the three-year anniversary came and went a few weeks ago, my body remembered the feelings I felt that day.  So much has changed since the day when everything changed. The memory of it feels like an old friend I haven’t seen in a while, but once reunited, we fall right back in step with each other.  Familiar, but aged and weathered. Comforting and excruciating simultaneously. Grief is like that. Unwelcome and painful, yet sacred and intimate. I long to forget, but I fear forgetting because I need to remember. To feel.  To honor.

I imagine the person I knew. I picture her standing on the cement wall by my old counseling office, looking into the stream below and swaying slightly to the music blaring through her headphones.  No more.  I hear her voice greeting everyone in the waiting area as she enters, eager to connect. Desperate to be heard.  No more.  I see the other side of this person, the darker side, sitting on my couch unable to pretend any longer.  Broken.  No more.

As a counselor, I witness the desperation and grief of others often. I find myself asking, “How could this happen?  Why would a good God allow people to suffer to the point that death feels like the only relief?  Is there anything anyone can really do to help in the presence of such hopelessness?”  I don’t know the answers, but I do know this.  There is no time when I feel more dependent on God and more desperate for a Savior than in the face of grief and tragedy.  I don’t want to avoid pain because that would mean I am avoiding connection and relationship. And it would mean missing out on an opportunity to participate in the most powerful collective experience that exists- human suffering.

In light of our nation’s recent collective grief experience as we mourn the death of Robin Williams, I hold my own grief tightly and remember.  Suicide impacts so many, and this very public grief of a legend and dear friend from afar connects millions to the grief of losing someone to suicide and dealing with the aftermath and the questions and the confusion.  I pray for his family, his friends, his fans, his counselor if he had one, and all those who feel hopeless and trapped.  There is a psalm (34:18) that says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those that are crushed in spirit.”  I can’t understand why things happen the way they do, but I take comfort in believing that in our darkest moments, the Lord is close.  And there are people who care and want to walk beside you.

Thanks for letting me walk beside you, C.  It was an honor.

lens picture

Why my son will never watch Pete’s Dragon: Viewing movies from an adoptive mother’s lens

lens picture

We all have lenses we put on to see the world.  Some of them we choose and others we are born into.  Being a white,straight, middle-class American is a privileged lens for me.  Being a woman, a working mother, an adoptive parent, a counselor, a person of deep faith… these lenses get a little more delicate and sensitive at times.

Over time, both my mother lens and my adoptive mother lens continue to sharpen.  One realm where I find them rear their heads often is in the consumption of entertainment.  Frequently in movies, especially children’s movies, adoption is depicted as the unfortunate result of tragic death or appalling deception toward the biological parents. Typically along this story line, caregivers and adoptive parents are portrayed as evil or unkind in some way and the redemption comes when the hero is reunited with his or her biological family, or at least differentiates from the adoptive family in some symbolic and permanent way (e.g. throwing one’s evil adoptive mother off a cliff).

Watching some of the same movies I enjoyed as a child with an adult lens is eye-opening enough, but when I put on the lens of adoptive parent, I am doing two things at once.  I am viewing them critically for appropriateness and deeper meanings, and I am also trying to see them through my son’s eyes.  At times, I can almost feel his brain moving, trying to make sense of how his own story fits or doesn’t fit.

Although this is in no way comprehensive, I have put on my adoptive parent lens to provide some examples of themes I see in certain children’s movies that relate to adoption- 2 themes that may create tension and confusion for adopted children and a third theme that I see as positive and even hopeful.

Theme 1: Birth Parents are Gods or Royalty

Risk for Adopted Children: The tendency to over-romanticize birth parents, leading to tremendous let-down and confusion.

Hercules: The evil uncle kidnaps baby Hercules and tries to kill him. Good people find him and raise him, and as soon as there is reconciliation with the birth parents (who happen to be gods), there is no more mention of the kind, loving adoptive parents again. Hercules always felt different, and it all comes together for him when he learns he is the child of immortal beings.  He spends the rest of the movie trying to “earn back” his god-like status so he can live with his birth parents on Mt. Olympus.

Tangled: Oh Mother Gothel… She gives ME nightmares. A horrible witch steals a magical baby, creates a codependent and abusive parental dynamic with her and exploits her child in exchange for youth. Rapunzel longs for the Magic Lights that occur on her birthday every year, which she later learns is her birth parents’ commemoration of their little princess who was stolen from them.  Redemption happens when Rapunzel finally learns the truth, stands up to her evil adoptive mother, and is eventually reunited with her birth parents (the king and queen) after her adoptive mother shrivels up and falls out of the tower.  Bottom line- Rapunzel is going to need to A LOT of therapy.

tangled

Theme 2: Social service systems can NEVER be trusted.

Risk: Foster care and adoptive children may become mistrustful of anyone connected to government services or law enforcement and believe they must stay in negative situations because no one will help them.

Despicable Me:  In many ways, I love this movie.  I love the transformation of Gru and the moral of the story that love can soften even the nastiest of people… But let’s not forget a few things about this movie.  The orphanage the girls come from is oppressive and abusive and the social worker punishes them with a “box of shame”.  They are exploited for financial gain, and treated like property when Gru walks in and takes custody of them without any formal process. (Job title: Evil Villain.  Sounds like a great placement for three little girls.)

despicable me

Pete’s Dragon: Don’t get me started. My sister reminded me recently of how horrific this movie is. A sweet orphan boy is bought like a slave, physically abused, treated like property, and the only thing keeping him from having to go back to his ruthless adoptive family at the end is the destruction of his “bill of sale”.  Yuck.  If you think of this movie fondly and want to keep it that way, don’t click on the hyperlink on the film title.

Theme 3: It is natural to feel conflicted about being adopted.

Benefit:  By seeing this in movies, adopted children are given permission to wrestle with this struggle and to honor the complexity and tragedy of love and loss.

Tarzan: Ironically, this may be my favorite children’s movie about adoption.  Orphaned baby is found by a female gorilla and adopted as her son, and, despite the obvious species difference, is embraced and loved.  My favorite part of this story is when his wonderful adoptive mother gorilla gives her son room to explore his origins without making him feel guilty or choose.  In the end, by giving him the room to do this, he chooses to embrace both his biological humanness (by marrying Jane) and the environmental and familial influence of his gorilla community and family.

Star Wars:  I think we can all agree that Luke and Lea were better off being adopted.  Finding out his father is Darth Vader is not an easy pill for Luke to swallow, but he wrestles with it and grieves the father he never knew and even finds room to love his father for who he is now instead of holding on to a fantasy of who he once was.

star wars

 

There are many more examples of movies that depict adoption both in positive and negative ways.  My motive is not to dampen anyone’s viewing of these movies or force any agenda.  My intention is only to provide a lens that I didn’t have two years ago.  And since this is one of the lenses my son will use to see things through for the rest of his life, I will too.  And I pray that he will stretch himself to put on other lenses that are not as familiar to him so he can learn to see the world from other perspectives as well.

I want to be a critical consumer; an attentive parent; a thoughtful woman; a follower of God; an ally to the oppressed and marginalized, whoever they may be.  This means I will have to be uncomfortable at times and stretch beyond my own worldview.

What are some lenses you wear that shape how you view entertainment and see the world?  What movies should I re-watch from these lenses to foster deeper understanding and challenge me to expand my perceptions? Help me see things through your eyes.

 

 

 

mom and kids

“I’m a happy mother”: Honoring the joys and sorrows of Mother’s Day

mom and me

Growing up, my mom’s response to the exclamation “Happy Mother’s Day!” was always the same.

“I’m a happy mother!”

Now that I am a mother, I see this response from a more personal lens.  I have always wanted to be a mom.  I know that not every woman shares this desire for motherhood, which I respect.  But for me, it was something I just assumed would happen, along with every other goal or dream for my life.  I don’t remember yearning for it when I was younger and even newly married, partly because I was pursuing other ambitions and passions, but also because I believed it would happen exactly how and when I wanted it to.  I didn’t see the point in dwelling on it.  I would be a mom, and it would be great when the time was right.

Long gone are the days of simple assumptions about anything.

2 years ago, I remember sitting in church on Mother’s Day feeling alone and angry.  Dave and I had been “trying” (awkward) for longer than I was admitting to myself or others, and it wasn’t happening.  I watched loved ones and not-so-loved ones around me getting pregnant like it was an item on a lunch menu.

I‘ll have a salad.”

“And I will have a baby.”

My beliefs about life and the way the world worked were being challenged in a painful and paradigm-shifting turn of events.  After buying in to the adage that I was “Taking Charge of My Fertility”, both by preventing and then by not preventing, the realization finally hit me that I really have very little control over it at all.  This always reminds me of Charlotte on Sex and the City when she says, “I spent all of my twenties trying not to get pregnant and all of my thirties trying to get pregnant!”

So here I was, sitting in church, watching adorable children pass out carnations to the standing women- the mothers- and I finally yearned to be one of them.  It went beyond a “you do you and I’ll do me” mindset and it became personal.

“Why them and not me?”

In that moment, I felt like I was becoming the person I hated.  The person who believes that everything is about her and that someone else’s fortune is somehow in direct competition with her own.  And then something happened.  I stopped looking at the women who were standing and started looking at the ones who weren’t.  Young women.  Old women.  Single women.  Married women.  Women who looked annoyed and others who looked embarrassed.  Women who fidgeted in their seats and those who looked around smiling and nodding happily at the standing women around them.  I didn’t want to judge them.  I wanted to know them.  “What are their stories?”

What I am learning as I allow myself to be vulnerable with others about my story is that there are a lot of complicated, painful, confusing, uncomfortable, and tragic stories all around me.  There are also countless stories about love, redemption, second chances, joy from sorrow, strength in weakness and healing amidst loss and grief.  I am not unique.  But my story is valuable.  So is yours.

Today, on Mother’s Day, my mom’s words resonate in my heart and soul.

“I am a happy mother!” 

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I am not happy because I got what I wanted, nor am I happy because I deserved it all along.  I am happy because I have seen God work in my life in a real and personal way.  I am happy because God had a plan all along that was better than mine, and I didn’t know or understand that two years ago.  I am happy because the deep yearning I felt that day in church and the story I have been telling myself since childhood are connected.  For me, that’s the key to my story now.  It was never about getting everything I wanted.  It was about the desires, passions and visions God put in my heart the day I was created that have strengthened and evolved into something more beautiful than I could have imagined.

Mother’s Day is a painful day for a lot of people.  It represents loss as much as it represents gain.  It reminds people of what they used to have and what they have never had.  So in addition to my happiness today, there is room for grief.  I grieve the loss of my son’s first mom.  Today, while I celebrate my “mom” status with my son, she will feel her own loss acutely, and that pains my heart.  I grieve the loss of my parents’ mothers.  I am reminded of my mom’s face when my grandmother died and the deep wailing in her spirit as she verbalized that she had become an orphan.  I mourn with my friends and clients who never knew the love of a mother.  I weep with those who have lost a child or who have a child who is sick and hurting and they don’t know how to help.  I hurt with those who yearn for  a child deeply.

That’s the beauty of life, really.  Feelings are not compartmentalized; they are fluid.  They don’t exist one after another, but in a magnificent tapestry, woven together intricately and gently.

If you are a happy mother today, celebrate that.  If that label does not fit for you, honor that however you need to.  For me, I will enjoy my presents and cards and cherish every hug and acknowledgment.  I will also make a conscious effort to be sensitive to the stories of others and leave room for grief and contemplation while still embracing my “special day”.

My road to motherhood was not simple, but it was just as it was meant to be.  And for that, I am certainly a happy and grateful mother.

photo(11)                                            (27016)

Why I cry at weddings

neely wedding

Dave and I attended the wedding of dear friends this weekend. Weddings are very present in my life right now. My sister got married a few months ago and my sweet cousin who is like a sister to me is getting married soon. There is something about weddings that fills me with energy and life. Maybe it’s the symbolism of new beginnings and the formal act of commitment, but whatever it is, it gets me every time.

Inevitably, EVERY SINGLE TIME, I cry.

I am a fairly emotive person (notice choice of words here- displaying emotions and being labeled “emotional” have different connotations), and it is really no surprise that I cry at weddings. But as the tears formed in my eyes at the wedding this weekend, I thought to myself, “What is it about this moment that is producing this emotional response?”

So I have come up with some reasons why I cry unapologetically at weddings.

1) There is a force that is present at weddings that is bigger than any person or relationship or scenic backdrop.
From my experience of attending probably 50 weddings in my life, there is a tone of reverence that I have felt at pretty much all of them. Regardless of religious or spiritual affiliations, I feel a sense of awe and an acknowledgment that something special is happening here; something powerful. Something magical and miraculous.
Because of this, the weight of what is happening seems to descend on not just the couple, but on every witness. Some people take a breath. Others shift slightly in their seats, feeling uncomfortable with the weight of what is occurring. And many of us cry. The heaviness of the moment becomes overpowering, and I give in to it freely. After all, I love a good cry about as much as I love a good wedding.
2) Weddings are a reminder of all that is good and pure about love.
Before I was married, weddings were a reminder of all that I hoped and prayed for one day. Now they are a reminder of what love can be. There is a naivety about love that exists at weddings, not based on avoidance of the reality of love and how hard relationships can be, but with a focus on how beautiful it can be when we can put aside our jadedness and hurt and insecurities. “Perfect love casts out fear.” That is what weddings feel like to me. An act of reckless abandonment that is risky and even unwise in some ways, but courageous and inspiring.
The reality is that marriage is hard. There are many days when the simplicity of the love I felt on my wedding day feels miles away. For some people, relationships may be crumbling and it is hard to believe there is anything good and pure about love or marriage. But I think that’s why we need that day. We need that moment. And we need reminders of that moment to sustain us.
3) Weddings represent a culminating moment in a journey of experiences.
If I attend a wedding, it usually means I have some history with one or both people getting married. I have likely seen them grow and mature, sometimes since childhood and other times only a few months, and I have played some role in their journey.  This category is what usually defines how intense my crying is at a wedding. The more emotionally invested, the more I cry. I experience a flood of memories and feelings about this person or couple as I sit in front of them or stand next to them. (That’s the hard part. I am usually standing next to the people who I am closest to, which means the entire guest list witnesses my extreme emotional response and the retrieval of the Kleenex tucked discretely into my dress or bouquet.)
Although some people have a tendency to make things about them that are not about them, I don’t think that is the case here. I think it IS about them. It is about everyone. All of these people assembled in the same place at the same time because this couple drew them together. And for the rest of their lives, the relationship the couple has with each wedding attendee will be impacted by this shared experience.

And finally, here’s the clincher for me…

4) Guys cry at weddings.
I try to be someone who avoids perpetuating stereotypes about women being emotional and men being logical, but I have to be honest- men crying impacts me differently than women crying. I have seen my share of crying in my counseling office and have worked hard to master the “welled eyes” moment (the “I really feel like crying because you have touched me sincerely with your story, but if I cry, I may make this more about me and take the focus off of you, so I will hold it in, but if you look closely, there is moisture in my eyeballs” moment). But when a man who typically tries to present as strong and logical and composed sheds a few tears, my self-control leaves the room with my mascara.
This is another example of the overwhelming force and weight of the act of marriage. Even people that typically control their emotional responses (dare I say avoid them at times) succumb to the moment. Not all guys and not all the time. But if, by some miracle, I have managed not to cry at a wedding and then I notice the groom’s cheeks are wet or the father of the bride gets choked up or the sweet uncle doing a reading takes a long pause to regain composure, I’m done.

 

So yeah, I cry at weddings. I’m okay with it. I feel no shame in expressing my emotions, especially when witnessing the formal act of love and commitment by people I am invested in. I encourage you to give yourself permission to cry at weddings, too. Don’t hold back. It’s like an altar call at a Baptist church. Don’t sit in your seat with sweat dripping off your forehead as your heart tries to run out of your chest. Just let the spirit move. But I’m warning you: Once you go up to that altar, you never go back.

wedding toast 1

 

Facing your fears- Honoring anxiety and courage in children and grown-up children

A New leaf part 3- Facing Fears

 When I was 8 years old, I heard a story on the news about a man contracting HIV through a needle left on a seat in a movie theater.  Panic struck me, and nothing felt safe.  Of course, going to movies was out.  There was no way I would fall victim to the same trap.  Eventually, it went beyond a fear of going to movies to a fear of public places.  If someone could be sick enough to put an infected needle on a movie theater chair, what’s to stop someone from putting a needle in the sand at the baseball field or in my backyard?  The fear became so consuming that one day I found a sewing needle on the floor of our garage, and I started panicking and shaking.  I asked my mom through tears and heavy breaths, “Why would God create a world and allow it to be filled with so much awfulness?” (Still a question that stirs me deeply.)

I was a scared, anxious kid.  When I heard about something bad happening to someone else somewhere else, I immediately assumed it would happen to me, too. (This could also have been the beginning stages of narcissism now that I think about it.)  Once I had a fear in mind, it became consuming and would lead to irrational scenarios where I would be doomed and there was nothing anyone could do to help.  Looking back, I empathize with my mom and siblings. It must have felt so helpless to watch me panic inconsolably.

One of the reasons why I became a child and adolescent counselor is my deep understanding of how small and vulnerable a child can feel and how big and scary the world can seem.  Although I still experience acute fears and high levels of anxiety at times, I no longer exist in that place of constant fear that consumed much of my energy as a child.  As I got older, my fears took on more of an existential focus.  Who am I?  What is my purpose?  Does anything I do really matter?  Are we all just a speck of dust on the top of a flower being carried by a clumsy elephant named Horton?  You know, the little things.  Although these questions could consume me if I let them, I have found ways to re-focus myself from them by connecting with others, engaging in purposeful activities and embracing faith so that the unanswered questions could coexist with what I believed to be true.

I asked my college students to write down alternative words for common emotions like sadness, anger and fear.  A descriptive emotion that came up to quantify fear was the word petrified.  Literally paralyzed; frozen with fear.  Think of the curse “Petrificus Totalus” from Harry Potter.  The victim’s body goes rigid and the only thing he can move is his eyes.  I know that feeling.  And as I incorporate my thoughts and beliefs about fear with my passions and visions for my life, that word seems to be a common reaction to moving forward with my dreams.  Sometimes, I literally feel stuck where I am out of fear.  Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of change… Staying still feels safer, but in actuality, it perpetuates the state of fear- the petrification.

As a parent, it is remarkable to watch your child overcome fear.  My son has a beautiful blend of a cautious and adventurous spirit that I really admire.  I can see his initial concern and fear when he is presented with something he doesn’t understand or hasn’t experienced before, but it is followed by a desire to try.  It’s like he  knows he will regret it if he lets his fear take over.  He has a bit of a formula for how he handles his fears.  He starts out tentative and stays close.  He checks things out for a minute or two and takes it all in.  Then he slowly engages.  He tries this new activity for a few seconds, then looks back and smiles.  *This is my cue.*  “Stay close, but I am going in.”  After participating for a little while, he runs over to me with excitement in his eyes and asks if I saw him.  I answer “I sure did!”, and he returns to the activity, not as a novice anymore, but as a student who is catching on and ready for more challenge.

Josh learning to ride without training wheels

Josh learning to ride without training wheels

josh karate

Josh’s first day at Karate

josh jumping on trampoline

Josh jumping at a trampoline playground

josh climbing

Josh climbing his first rock wall

I want to experience life that way.  I don’t want to miss out on adventures because of my fear.  And I don’t want to model for that my son.  I want him to know that fear is normal and appropriate and even necessary, but that it doesn’t have to win.  Some things are more powerful than fear- like love.  In the third book/movie in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, one of my favorite characters, Eowyn, niece of King Theoden, wants to fight with the men. When talking to Aragorn about fear, she says that she fears neither death nor pain, but rather a cage- “To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.”

ewoyn in battle

Eowyn does fight.  In fact, she defeats the witch king, who  touted that no man could ever kill him.  (To which she responds, “I am no man!” Love it.)  And she doesn’t do it for valor or for pride or even for her country.  She does it for her friends.  Her family.  Love.  I have things to fight for.  People to face fears for and take risks for and even get hurt for.  As she rides to battle with the childlike hobbit Merry riding with her, she says the words that I hold on to any time I feel weak and petrified in the face of of my fear.  “Courage, Merry.  Courage for our friends.”

The next time you think about avoiding your fears, ask yourself, “Who needs my courage right now?” And “Who could suffer if I don’t stand up and fight?”

The most uncomfortable day of my life

A New Leaf Part 3- Embracing Discomfort

Our comfortable life

Our comfortable life

My husband and I sat on our couch, stunned and speechless.  The last big barrier in our process of whether or not we could adopt Josh had just been removed.  “Talk to each other about it, and let me know what you decide.” the lawyer said.  What we decideOur decision.  We had wanted to be parents so badly, and now we were faced with the reality of it, and we were scared.  Petrified.  I remember feeling like my body was on fire.  As I sat on our couch and looked at my husbandI could see in his eyes the same feelings in my own heart.  All the fun thoughts of parenthood fled and we were left with the intense and uncomfortable thought: life as we know it will never be the same. 

Are we ready for this?”

Hard things happen to people every day.  Horrific things in some cases.   We hurt, we struggle, and (hopefully) we grow.  But I have found that, for me, there is a huge difference between hard things happening and choosing hard things.  When Dave and I were faced with the decision either to adopt Josh and completely change our lives or to opt out and maintain our stable, comfortable lives, my flesh cried out to stay the same.  But my spirit knew that the comfortable choice was not the right one.  And in that moment of desperation and clarity, my heart longed for discomfort.  I couldn’t go back to the comfortable life I had lived before that moment because I knew that, after seeing a glimpse of something more meaningful and significant, my old life would never be enough.  I would never be satisfied where I was.  Despite fear and panic and a million “what ifs?” that filled my mind, I was ready to be uncomfortable.  Nothing had ever felt more right.

As human beings, we desire comfort.  I would choose a hot shower over a cold one any day.  I turn my air conditioning on when I am warm and my heat on when I am cold, and I don’t think twice about it.  I eat when my body tells me it’s hungry (and often even when it doesn’t) and I surround myself with people I like and agree with most of the time.  But then something will happen that will momentarily shake the foundation of my comfort, and in those moments, I have a choice- to seek to return to comfort at all costs or to be adventurous.  To continue existing or to really live.

Historically, I have sought the road leading to comfort.  As a child,  it was a joke in my family that I was the cautious one who would dip her toe in the water before getting in and who couldn’t stand it if my sock had a wrinkle in it.  My sister, on the other hand, was free-spirited and a bit wild (compared to me).  She would dive headfirst into a freezing cold pool without a second thought.  She would act first, then think, and I both envied her carefree attitude and feared for her safety.  By not taking many risks, I knew what to expect from life and I felt secure- until life would act on its own accord, leaving me helpless and confused.  This led to a lot of anxiety and fear that was debilitating at times.  Gradually, I learned that, although I can control some variables in my life, I can’t control them all.  But I still desired to maintain my comfort at all costs.

Fast forward to that night on the couch with my husband, as I am faced with the most uncomfortable, overwhelming decision of my life.  All of a sudden, in the midst of such discomfort, I felt more present than I had ever felt before.  Every part of my mind, body and spirit was responding, and I felt alive.  Being uncomfortable was exhilarating and liberating.  By not choosing comfort, the world was wide open to me.  Everything in my bones knew what I wanted to choose, and I was ready to lean in to my discomfort.

Over time, I settled into my routine as a working parent.  Life is pretty predictable and stable, and I am grateful for it.  But when I think back to that night on the couch, that moment of pure discomfort, I have to admit that I miss it.  I miss the sensations of uncertainty and the flood of emotions.  I miss the intense connection I felt to God, my husband, and my own passions and visions that day.  I know that I cannot exist in that place all the time.  It would be too much.  But what would it take for me to be that uncomfortable again?  What are some daily ways that I can push through my desire for comfort in an attempt to live more courageously and less carefully?  I want to be like my sister and do a cartwheel into the swimming pool and say, “Ta-da!” with my arms raised high.  I want to teach my son to be thoughtful and use common sense, but also to be uncomfortable and take risks and face hard things head on.

What makes you uncomfortable?  I mean really uncomfortable.  How can you lean in to that discomfort?  I am discovering as I pursue my dreams that fulfilling one’s passions and life visions is the epitome of uncomfortable.  But it’s worth it.  And in the end, I think it’s the only way to really live.  So let’s lean in to our discomfort together.

So worth it.

So worth it.

Why I am giving up multi-tasking for Lent

multitasking

A New Leaf Part 2- Minimizing Distraction by eliminating Multi-Tasking

I am beginning to believe that multi-tasking is just a fancy way of saying “I do several things at one time because nothing is worth my undivided attention.”

Yesterday morning, I was sitting on the couch with my son.  He was watching Garfield (his new obsession), and I was half-watching/half-checking emails while snuggling in our pajamas.  The title crossed the screen for the next segment of the show, and Josh excitedly asked me to read it out loud.  I looked up, but the title had already come and gone.  “I missed it, honey.” I said.  His response was a gut check and a reminder of why I am writing this post.  “You missed it because you were on your phone again.”

Technological distractions are insidious for me because I am not even aware I am engaging in them sometimes.  It has become instinctual for me to to pick up my phone and mindlessly scroll to fill any moment of downtime I have.  I feel compelled to check my emails and text messages in my car at stop lights because those moments feel boring and unstimulating, just sitting and waiting.  And here lies the root of the problem.  I feel entitled to be entertained and stimulated at all times.  This mindset impacts every area of my life, from my relationships to my productivity to the fulfillment of my passions and life visions.

Until recently, I may not have put this together, but now I see that the core issue of wanting to be entertained and stimulated at all times is directly related to the fulfillment of my visions and goals.  For one, these distractions have become huge time-wasters in my life.  What starts out as a quick scroll on Facebook becomes 20 minutes of my life that I can never get back.  Secondly, these distractions cloud my mind with thoughts, images and values that are not connected to my passions and visions, leading to psychological distractions.  Instead of thinking about the needs of my local community or the character traits I hope to instill in my child, I am thinking about the best way to style my hair or what Downton Abbey character I am most like (it’s Sybil, by the way).  I am focused on the exotic trips my Facebook friends are taking rather than the beauty of the park down the street.  I am psychologically distracted from my visions, which makes it more difficult for me to stay focused.

And then there’s television.  I love tv.  I always have.  It has served as a medium for meaningful conversations between friends and a fun way to experience community when others are invited to participate in it with me.  It is not all bad.  In fact, watching tv throughout my life has honed my ability to empathize, modeled healthy and unhealthy communication and interactions, and generated thoughts and insights about life and relationships that have helped shape who I am.  “And that’s why everyone should watch television!”

Wow, I just made tv sound like a day at the soup kitchen.  Okay, it’s not all good either.  Television has become a psychological and a relational distraction in my life.  After a long day, I look forward to spending some time with my tv.  When I am bored, I mindlessly turn it on instead of engaging in the world somehow.  As a child, if I couldn’t sleep at night, I remember taking comfort in having the television on because I felt a connection to the outside world, making me feel less alone.  But it’s a tease.  It’s an almost-connection, not a real connection.  The characters on my beloved shows don’t ask me how I am doing or pray for me or tell me to turn them off and go to bed.  And often, they serve as a distraction from deepening relationships with those in my life who could do those things.

So where does this leave meI am not prepared to give up technology completely or move my family to an island.  Even if I did, I would still find ways to distract myself from living my life and fulfilling my dreams because it’s just in our nature.  The psychological and relational distractions will find us wherever we are.  So if it’s not total avoidance, it must be something else.  I think for me it comes down to this- be intentional.  About everything.  All the time. Don’t give mindlessness any room to run.

It sounds exhausting, being intentional all the time.  But here’s the thing.  I think it may be more exhausting not to be.  Being mindless makes me lethargic, tired and numb.  So being the opposite of that may just lead to energy, focus and engagement.  It’s worth a try.

What does it mean to be intentional?  I need practical things.  I am too abstract for my own good, so let me try to be specific.  I am going to try to only do one thing at a time.  It sounds simple enough, but think about how often you actually do it.  Our society’s values of being entertained and being productive often lead to the pressure to multi-task. Why stop at killing two birds with one stone when you can kill a whole flock of birds with a grenade?  There is a time and a place for multi-tasking.  But right now, as I evaluate the distractions in my life, I realize I have put too much emphasis on this term and used it as an excuse not to be intentional.  So I am going to try to go the other extreme for a little while.  Multi-tasking is now my enemy because it leads to distraction and distances me from my passions and visions. My hope is that if I can focus on being intentional (abstract) and only doing one thing at a time (practical), I will be more prepared to combat the temptations of technological distractions and stay on task.  What keeps you from just doing one thing at a time?

To help me minimize relational distractions, I have two phrases I want to tattoo on my hands- be present (abstract) and minimize background noise (practical).  This may mean turning off the television when I am trying to connect with an actual human or  when I have work to do (I am the queen of doing work on the couch with the tv on), but it can be other things for me, too.  If I am in a room full of people and a friend is trying to have a conversation with me, I often get distracted by the stories and interactions of others, keeping one ear up and one ear in the conversation.  I may need to ask that friend to sit down with me away from the crowd.  Minimizing background noise may also mean turning of the music in the car occasionally if I need to spend some time with my own thoughts.  What are some ways you have trouble with background noise and being present?

Coincidentally, today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the Lenten season for those who celebrate Easter.  When it was first observed in the fourth century, its focus was on self-examination and self-denial in preparation for Easter.  In honor of Lent this year, here is my commitment:

No multi-tasking.  I will spend this season being intentional by only doing one thing at a time and being present by minimizing background noise By denying myself the ease of multi-tasking, both practically and relationally, my hope is that it will be a season of self-examination and reflection that will lead to a clearer focus about how to honor my passions and fulfill my visions.  Feel free to join me.