Monthly Archives: July 2013

An Extravert’s Struggle

Walking through life with others is an extraordinary gift.  I have the privilege to walk with a lot of people- my family and extended family, my immediate community of friends, my extended community (past and present), my colleagues, my clients, my classmates, my students, and all 947 of my friends on Facebook.  As an extravert, I thrive on relational connection.  It fuels me and energizes me, and it makes me feel full.

I love parties.  After hosting a party or gathering, I float around the house smiling and talking incessantly.  My husband, an introvert, is usually sweeping or cleaning the kitchen (no complaints here), doing his best to listen and “be present” for my extraverted process while I try not to step in his dirt piles waiting to be dust-busted as I follow him from room to room.  I love to re-cap the experience, highlighting great moments, meaningful conversations, awkward interactions, and (my favorite thing) new friendships being formed in my presence.  I am like a kid in a candy shop, and for those who know me, a candy shop is just about my favorite place to be.

As much as I thrive on connection, I admit that sometimes my desire for interconnectedness makes things feel forced or disingenuous (the opposite of the environment I am hoping to create). I also know that I can put too much of my identity in being a connecter, taking pride and self-glorification in my successes, while also feeling defeated and even resentful when my attempts don’t go as planned.

I recognize that my tendency toward putting myself in that spot of connecter is a characteristic of my personality; but as I get older, I am becoming more aware that I have put too much emphasis on that role in my life.  Recently, I have been trying to be more of a “sit back and soak it in” kind of person instead of always jumping to my go-to reaction of “I need to be at the center of all things”.

My introverted friends and family members have taught me that a lot of really meaningful stuff happens on the edge of things.  There are subtle, beautiful conversations that I miss when I sit in the middle of the table and talk the loudest.  There are intuitive nods that I brush off in order to stay involved in the most prominent conversation.  There are people I overlook because they aren’t talking in front of a crowd or seeking attention, and I never take the time to focus solely on them for even a few minutes to actually try to get to know them.

Jesus could talk to huge crowds, but he seemed to prefer to be relationally intuitive and seek out those who others weren’t actively pursuing because he realized their worth and understood the value of intimate connection.  I have had to learn to do that more in my job as a counselor.  When they walk in to my office and the door closes, my clients have my full attention (most of the time.. I am still human, of course).  And then I get home, and I struggle to give my husband my undivided attention for 5 minutes.  I have play therapy sessions with young clients where I track their movements and reflect their feelings, and I can see how valued they feel when someone puts them above all else for a whole hour.  Then I come home and rush through a puzzle with my son so I can get on to “bigger” things.

I want to be more than present.  I want to be deliberate.  I want to be attuned to the needs of others and show people they are important to me by not smiling through their responses to my obligatory question of “how are you?” while I look over their heads to see what else is going on.  I want to attend a dinner party and choose to sit at the end of the table, focusing on one meaningful conversation with the person next to me instead of jumping around to 8 or 9 conversations in the middle of the table.

Let’s be honest, no one that I know has time to be deliberate and attentive to 100 people on a weekly basis.  Big group events are a great way for me to touch base with a lot of people, especially those who aren’t in my immediate communities.  But if those big group events are the only connection point I have for my “home team”, my closest people, then there is a problem.  These are the family members and dear friends that come to Josh’s soccer games and plan vacations with us; that intimately know about our struggle in becoming parents because they walked through it with us; that ask me hard questions and think about and pray for my family regularly; that attend my big events, knowing that we may only have one or two moments of genuine connection, but it’s okay because they know me and they trust our relationship.  Trusting the relationship is one thing, but taking those relationships for granted is another.

Are there people you cherish who sometimes get lost in the relational shuffle?  Are you the extravert who craves big connection or the introvert who prefers the comfort of a few close friends?  My challenge to myself (and to any of you who choose to accept it) is this:

Be deliberate in your relationships.  Don’t let your personality or your insecurities be an excuse for not fostering deep, meaningful connections and putting effort into those relationships.  Whether you are extraverted or introverted, embrace it for all the gifts it brings without giving it too much power or control over who you are or how you relate.  True connection is not limited to certain personalities. Lastly, ask for forgiveness when you aren’t attentive to the relational needs of others, especially your home team.

*I borrowed the term home team from one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist.  I don’t think she will mind. 🙂

Who says I can’t cook?

Who says I can’t cook?  Well, up until about a month ago, I would have said that about myself.  I also would have added that I am not crafty either just to make sure people kept their expectations low for me in those areas.  How did I come to adopt these labels about myself?  And what does it serve me to maintain them?

Throughout my childhood, my mom never put a ton of passion into cooking.  She reserved most of her passion for other things, like being an attentive mother, helping people in need and showing kindness to anyone she met.  We were certainly always well-fed, and I still find comfort in some of our “staples” growing up, most notably chicken, rice, corn & beans.  It is exactly what it sounds like, and I still love it.  One exception to my mom’s lack of passion for cooking is her commitment to making the best turkey soup possible every year with the leftovers from Thanksgiving.  She dances around the kitchen adding things and tasting it as she goes.  I love watching her do this.  Every year, my step-dad tells her it’s her best turkey soup to date.

As I got older, I neglected to take the time to learn to cook, or really to learn anything else that would lead to becoming a self-sufficient adult.  I remember the summer before I left for college, I was standing in our laundry room with my older brother and sister while they showed me how to wash my own clothes.  I thought we had a pretty good system up until that point.  I brought my clothes to the laundry room, my mom washed them, whoever needed the washing machine next would switch them to the dryer, and then my brother would iron my clothes as needed.  I didn’t see the problem with this arrangement.  Here lies the root of some of the labels I have carried for far too long.  I am actually too good at being helpless sometimes.

Growing up, I was the classic youngest child, and I milked it for all it was worth.  At some point along the way, I began believing that I wasn’t good at certain things to perpetuate this image of needing help.  As I got older, I turned the image on and off as it suited me, feeling extremely competent in some areas of my life and eager to receive help in the areas that I had decided  weren’t important to me.  Don’t misunderstand me, I believe in the value of people with certain skills or expertise helping others who may not have the same gifts.  But I took this to a whole new level.  I taught myself and those around me to lower their expectations for me in some areas where I may have been fully capable if I challenged myself to care or try.

This mindset perpetuated through my young adult life as well.  Although I did reluctantly learn to do my own laundry, I still avoided activities like cooking or really any creative outlet by saying that “I am just not artistic” or “I don’t really cook”.  Because of my personality, I quickly made these labels into jokes, and before I knew it, others had picked up on the joke as well.  I have vivid memories of people close to me laughing about my lack of domestic and artistic abilities, and I laughed right along with them because, let’s face it, I taught them to do that.

Throughout my college and young adult years, my labels of being “not artistic” and “not a good cook” suited me just fine as I sought to become a professional woman.  I didn’t need to be a crafty person or a great cook.  In fact, I had convinced myself that those identities didn’t fit into my image of a strong, professional woman.  (Other than Martha Stewart, but she had just gone to prison.)

When I got married, I began to feel a faint desire to be a little more domestic (although I don’t think I ever admitted that to anyone else).  I began cooking dinner more and trying out new recipes.  I actually enjoyed it, and I found myself thinking about how food is prepared and how I could replicate my favorite restaurant dishes.  My husband is passionate about a lot of things, but cooking has never been one of them, so he seemed excited about this spark of interest I was developing.  Since he was doing about 85% of all the household chores (and still does), I figured cooking dinner was the least I could do.

Over time, the excitement of cooking began to wear off and it started to feel more like a necessity again.  I realized that my husband, although appreciative of my efforts to try new recipes, would probably eat a piece of cardboard if he was hungry enough, so being adventurous with ingredients or spending more than 20 minutes on dinner seemed like an unproductive use of time since I was just cooking for the two of us.  So I went back to our “staples” and gradually lost my passion for cooking.

Fast forward a few years to the arrival of our 4-year-old son.  I had to get a little inventive at mealtimes again.  This time, the goal was not to cook the most delicious, interesting meal I could find.  The goal was to find the quickest, most discrete way to sneak vegetables into my child’s limited food selection.  When we first got him, there were so few foods he would eat, but eating as a family was a high value for us.  So we all ate spaghetti with pureed spinach and chicken and macaroni & cheese with pureed squash.  After a few weeks of this, I found myself craving whole vegetables, fish, and well-seasoned side dishes.

I began to tentatively pick up some cookbooks that I hadn’t opened in years.  I found myself scrolling Pinterest for recipes and looking for excuses to cook real meals.  I fell in love with the idea of preparing meals with friends and hosting dinner parties and potlucks.  I began asking questions about dishes that others had prepared and making mental notes of ideas I wanted to try.  I practiced recipes that excited me, making little tweaks to them the second and third time around.

As a working mother, I still rely heavily on my Crockpot, and I am often scrounging to put meals together on weekdays.  But once or twice a week, I experiment.  A few times a month, I invite friends over for dinner.  Every trip to the grocery store now involves buying something I have never tried before to add to one of my “staple” recipes or to become the centerpiece for a brand new invention.

Don’t panic, friends.  I have no plans to quit my day job and enroll in culinary school.  I still find myself feeling my way around my kitchen, sometimes in the dark.  But I am having fun and allowing myself to be creative and a little adventurous.  I am tired of these old labels and ready to try on some different ones, like: Karin, who is creative in her own way and who really enjoys cooking with her friends.  I am also tired of using these old labels to avoid reaching out to others or pushing myself to grow.   God has given me gifts that I try to share with others.  But I have been reminded recently that it is not true serving if I am only serving out of my own comfort and competence.  I want to be as eager to help someone  plant a garden as I am to give someone a personality test.  I want to look for opportunities to serve out of my comfort zone and to let go of labels that hold me back from doing so.  I can make a meal for a family with a sick parent or a new baby.  I can help decorate for a goodbye party for dear friends.  I can do crafts with my son and work on DIY projects for my house instead of running to the store to buy something.

What labels have you carried for too long?  What would it look like to get rid of them?  What’s holding you back?  Living with purpose involves being deliberate and intentional about who you are, who you hope to be, and what kind of message you want to communicate to others.  It’s never too late to redefine yourself.

An Apology to Every Mother I Have Ever Judged

I am a horrible mother.  At least, I felt like the world’s worst mother last week at Books A Million.  And I am pretty sure a few other people in the store may have shared my sentiments about my parenting.  I would have had some pretty harsh thoughts toward me a year ago.  All the signs were there: a disrespectful child who is actively defying his authority figure, a mother who is clearly getting more and more upset and resentful by the minute, and a store full of witnesses.  Disaster.  “How did I get here?”  “Is this some sort of cosmic retribution for all of my acts of defiance and disrespect toward my mother during my teen years?”  “Should I even be a counselor since I clearly can’t manage my own kid?”

In that moment, I felt so helpless.  This adorable little 5-year-old monster was holding all the power in his hand, taunting me with it as he ran from aisle to aisle.  I remembered times when I was a young child, and my mom would make us leave the store when we couldn’t act appropriately.  She was so consistent with this, even when it really inconvenienced her.  I thought about this, but I also faced the horrid reality that I could not remove my child from the store if I couldn’t catch him.

Josh had never done anything like this to me before. (My pride felt the need to share that.)  He has certainly had his fair share of meltdowns, but not like this.  Not this deliberate.  Not this mean.  Coming from an adoption standpoint, I might say that this is a good sign.  “He must really trust my love and commitment as his mother if he can show his behind so boldly in public.”  Or I could choose to take the non-biological “out” by thinking “this behavior must be a result of his early parenting and not at all a reflection of his current stable and loving parenting”.  But the reality is that Josh and I are just two humans full of sin and insecurities and fears and unmet needs.  And on that day, our wills collided.

My tendency is to look at situations like this from a clinical standpoint.  “What is going on in Josh’s mind right now?  Did something trigger this kind of behavior?  What needs are not being met and how can I help him express his needs in a more productive manner?”  While this therapeutic lens can be helpful to me as a mother, I am learning that this isn’t enough to be an effective and consistent parent.  I can do everything “right” (generally speaking) as a mother, and Josh could still act up and disobey.  This is enough to drive a parent crazy.  Give me a checklist, and I will nail it.  I am a learn-by-seeing kind of person, so give me the name of the world’s best mom, and I will just emulate her.  It’s a shame it doesn’t work that way.  But there has to be some common denominator to all of this?  Some ingredient that may not make everything perfect, but that can establish a solid foundation for a healthy relationship.

For me, the word that continually comes up  is compassion.  When I love my child fully and accept him as he is, just like our Heavenly Parent does for us, I seem to have much more energy and capacity for my child.  Having an abundance of compassion certainly does not mean that I excuse inappropriate behavior or compromise on my values as a parent.  It simply means that everything I do for my child is done in love and that my motives are for him to prosper and not to be harmed.

As a human, my motives may be pure, but I still may be misguided in the way I choose to respond.  That is where grace comes in.  My incident at Books A Million reminds me that I am not called to be a perfect parent.  That’s impossible.  However, I am called to be diligent in my desire to love my child well and to be humble in my realization that I will never have it all together.

When we got home from our disaster of a trip to the bookstore, we were both exhausted and exposed.  After an epic struggle to turn my monster back into my precious little boy, tempers subsided and love began to peer its head again.  We sat on the bed and talked calmly about what happened.  I gave him some initial consequences,  hugged him, and told him I would always love him.  I was grateful for the resolution, but I felt totally depleted and worn down.

And then Josh asked to help me cook dinner.

Honestly, I wanted space from him.  I didn’t feel like being gracious to him in that moment.  I wanted to retreat and lick my wounds while I waited for Dave to get home and take over the parenting responsibilities for the night.  But then I looked down at his little face, and I saw the vulnerability in his eyes.  I could sense that this moment was a turning point for us.  I had shown him that I could love him when he was cute and sweet and full of affection for me, but had I really had many opportunities to show him that I could love him when he was less than lovable? Could I demonstrate love to him when he is actively resisting my love with everything in him?  Hmm.. Is this how God feels about us all the time?

I love my son.  And I forgive my son.  But I certainly need to ask for forgiveness also- from God, from Josh, and from every mother that has ever lived.  Random woman in the check-out line at Publix, I’m sorry.  Friends of mine with kids who have different parenting styles, I’m sorry.  Lots and lots of mothers of my clients over the years, I’m sorry.  This is a really hard job, and I hope that the quality of my mothering is not based on that day at Books A Million.  But I am thankful for that day. (I can say that now that I have had a few days to process and reflect.)

Finally, to my own wonderful mother, I’m sorry.  And thank you.  You’re a really good mom, and you have set a beautiful example for me.