Monthly Archives: August 2013

Resistance is Futile (and Exhausting)

After a whirlwind of a year, life has gotten (dare I say) comfortable recently.  We are settled into our house, our jobs, our church, our activities… We added a kid, which changed A LOT.  But now he is incorporated into our new normal routine and it feels natural, like it has always been this way.  That’s good, right?

In some ways, definitely.  We underwent a significant amount of change and adjustment this year, so feeling comfortable and stable is a welcome relief.  But it also seems to bring an unsettling feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on.  Maybe I am having trouble trusting the stability and comfort.  This can’t possibly last.  Or maybe I am realizing that I don’t want it to last, not just like this anyway.  How do I determine the line between being comfortable and being complacent?

I have come to an important realization about myself the past several months.  When left to my own human devices, I am lazy.  Really lazy.  Oh, and selfish.  I like comfort and stability.  Is that inherently wrong?  Maybe not.  But it becomes a problem when my desire for comfort is stronger than my commitment to live purposefully and faithfully. 

My husband likes to exercise.  That’s an understatement.  He loves it.  He thrives on it.  He is so motivated to exercise that he occasionally runs on his lunch break and gets up ridiculously early some days so that he can exercise without missing out on quality family time after work.  I find this inspiring (and aggravating).  How can he be so diligent?  I don’t even like to do exercise classes because the instructors push me beyond my comfort zone, and that doesn’t fit into my view of a “relaxing exercise time”.  (I am pretty sure that is not the adjective that is supposed to precede that phrase.) 

Then X-Force happened.  My husband introduced me to the new resistance-based exercise equipment at our gym, and he offered to do it with me the first time so I would know what to do.  Basically, the whole concept behind these machines is to make the user uncomfortable.  In fact, if you are not straining with all of your might at the end of a set, you aren’t doing it right.  And it’s not just about the weight.  You are instructed to count to three on your way up, then count to five as you slowly release the weight back down.  Count to 5 right now for me.  Now imagine you are doing it with bricks suspended over your head with only your weak, shaky arms holding them up.  It’s a long time.  And you do it over and over until you physically can’t do anymore.  Then you do one more. 

If you are like me, you may be thinking this sounds masochistic and torturous. (If you are like my husband, you are probably thinking this sounds incredible. As a therapist, I urge you to seek professional help.)  But then I tried it, and I remembered why people do things like this.  I felt so accomplished after each repetition and even more so after each set.  When I was done with all of the machines, my arms felt like jell-o and I could barely pick up my keys.  I was physically depleted and emotionally energized.  I had forgotten how good it feels to push yourself to the point of complete exertion and live through it.  I had forgotten how much strength I had in me when I really dug deep. 

At first I told Dave that he had to come with me every time I did X-Force or I wouldn’t push myself hard enough.  I know myself well, and I had a sense that, as much as I loved the feeling of accomplishment after completing such an arduous task, my lazy and self-loving nature would prevent me from being uncomfortable enough to really do it right.  But then I found myself at the gym alone one day, and my muscles almost craved the sensation of the X-Force machines.  I went for it.  I pushed myself as hard as I could, and I remembered my husband’s words- “Now do one more.”  And my shaky, tired arms managed to do another.

I want to live my life “doing one more”.  I don’t want to be comfortable all of the time because I have grown so much from discomfort and pain.  Physically, I feel my muscles getting stronger and more sure.  I know this is true for my spiritual and emotional growth also.  When I push past my comfort zone and trust- God, others, my own body- I grow.  I mature.  I get stronger.

And then it hit me.  An area where I seem all too “comfortable” with resistance is in my relationship with God.  I find myself pressing in to my will and my self-determination, leaving little room for anyone else, especially God.  Then I am inevitably reminded that resistance toward God is indeed futile.  He is bigger, stronger, wiser, more compassionate, more intuitive and more powerful than I am.  Trying to push against God is like trying to leg-press a mac truck.  That is not resistance.  It is injury.  It is insanity.  I want to learn the difference between the resistance that pushes me beyond my comfort zone and challenges me to be better and the resistance that results from my own need for control.  The resistance that injures me instead of strengthens me. 

Occasionally when I am going through the line of exercise machines, I forget to check the settings and attempt to lift the weight of a 300 pound linebacker working out next to me.  Needless to say, the bar doesn’t move.  But other times, the set weight isn’t actually as much as I think I can do, and I have a choice.  Keep it where it is and take it easy or increase the weight and struggle.  My flesh tells me to keep it where it is, but I am trying to lean in to my discomfort and stay attuned to my spirit in those moments, and when I do, I often hear it whispering “Now do one more.”

 

 

Give it a year…

josh on the beach

So much can change in a year.

I am on vacation with my husband’s family this week, a Fields family tradition that I have participated in since Dave and I started dating.  As I soak in the calmness of the beach and watch my son play in the waves, I am struck with a deep sense of gratitude and awe.  “One year ago, could I ever have imagined this?”

So much can change in a year.

A year ago, we first heard the name Joshua and allowed our hearts to be open to exploring possibility, but it still seemed so unlikely, so far-fetched.  I had gotten so used to “not being a parent” that the idea of actually becoming a parent seemed like a cruel joke.  I remember thinking to myself, “If only I could be sure this would work out.”  I wished for a Back to the Future situation where Future Karin would come to me and tell me how happy I was with my son and how all the struggle and waiting and uncertainty was worth it because, in the end, everything worked out.  But I knew that I couldn’t have that kind of assurance.  We never really can.  That’s where faith comes in.

Often, as a counselor, I work with people who are desperately seeking that kind of assurance from me.  “Just tell me my daughter will turn out okay” or “Promise me things will get better”.  We just want to know; we want certainty.  And the older I get and the more difficult things I live through, the less certainty I have in anything other than God.  And I find when I am not trying to control my circumstances or grasp things with a tight fist, I feel free- free to be reckless and free to explore life and its possibilities.

Present-Day Karin understands that if I had known a year ago what I know now, I would have missed out on so many opportunities to take risks and to be forced out of my comfort zone.  I wouldn’t have had to fight so hard, emotionally, physically and spiritually, to push through my fears and really experience faith, vulnerability and community.  If I had known 3 years ago that I not only would be a mother, but that my child had already been born, I could have spent the next two years just coasting.  I could have avoided doctor’s appointments and medication and heartbreak and a substantial amount of time and energy as I waited for the right time to pick up my son.  But that wasn’t the plan.

I know that I needed to go through all of the experiences I went through on my journey to motherhood.  My personal and spiritual growth the past few years reinforces this, but more than anything, I am humbled by the connections that I have been able to make with so many others through my own experiences.  When everything comes easily, it is difficult to truly empathize with the plight of others.  My struggles may look different than someone else’s, but there is a comfort and an understanding in knowing that we all have to fight.

In some battles, we may never feel victorious.  Some people who yearn to find their life partner never do.  Some people strive every day to move beyond desolate living conditions, but it never happens.  Some people fight a daily battle against mental illness and past trauma, and eventually become fallen soldiers.  We don’t know that everything will turn out okay, but we also don’t know that it won’t.  I have come to appreciate this uncertainty and use it as a motivator.  Although I can’t control most things, there are some things I do have a say in.  I couldn’t control tons of variables in the process of adopting Josh, but I could make the calls.  I could get the paperwork done.  I could pray.  I could surround myself with a loving, supportive community.  I could get his room ready and allow myself to hope because I would rather hope than be hopeless.

A year ago, I heard about Josh.  I saw his picture (see below) while I was at the beach with my husband’s family, and I sensed that I was supposed to pursue him.  When I felt like giving up at one point, I asked God while running on a treadmill at the gym, “How hard am I supposed to fight for this?”  What seemed like a rhetorical question became a genuine plea for direction and hope.  And on that treadmill with my headphones in, surrounded by people, I heard a voice say, “Harder.”  So I did.

When things feel discouraging, or even hopeless, give it a year.  It is amazing how much can change in a year.

first pic of Josh beach vacation family pic

My beautiful, complicated family

wedding1

My husband and I just celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. I felt like we were really mature at the time.  When I look back now on who we were then, we seem like babies.  So young.  So wide-eyed, in love and ready for anything.

During the time leading up to our anniversary this year, several people asked me how long my husband and I have been married (a pretty standard question).  Some of those people were more like acquaintances or even strangers that I would be randomly making small talk with (side note: I have found that more people make small talk with me now that I have a kid… has anyone else noticed this?), and I could see the wheels turning in their brains as I stood there with my son and responded, “almost 4 years.”  Intuitively, I knew the question running through some of their minds.  “And how old is your son?”

I know this sounds funny to say, but I honestly hadn’t thought about the fact that our son was older than our marriage.  Not really.  The first time I felt myself becoming aware of it was when a stranger at a friend’s wedding asked me how long I have been married, and then quickly followed up the question with “Do you have any kids?”.  She didn’t ask me how old our child is, but she did ask me if he looked like me.  Ahh, another complicated adoptive family question.  I remember just smiling and saying simply, “Not really.”  She laughed and said, “Well, that’s how it works sometimes! I am sure the second one will be a spitting image!”  My internal voice-over was saying, “You’re sure of that?”

So yes, my son is 5, and my husband and I have been married for 4 years.  And that is where the story can end if I choose.  For someone who doesn’t like to make people uncomfortable or even uncertain, I could have seen a younger, less motherly version of myself over-explaining, volunteering too much information, and laughing along with the person as I clarify our very intimate, personal story so that no questions are left unanswered.  But I don’t do that.

In fact, I sort of like the awkward moments now.  I know it sounds weird (and maybe a little twisted), but I like to return the confused look with a warm smile before walking away.  The reality is that I have joined a club that I didn’t know I was joining.  This club doesn’t just include adoptive families.  It encompasses all sorts of complex family structures that don’t fit nicely into our traditional lens of the word family.  Having a child who is older than our marriage connects me with blended families, family caregivers, non-married partnerships, and all sorts of foster care and adoptive families.  The complication of not being able to become parents the traditional way connects me to other families dealing with infertility, gay and lesbian families, surrogate families, and families grappling with serious genetic concerns.  It’s not so lonely after all.  In fact, it’s pretty comforting.

Sometimes, it is so clear what God’s plan is in hindsight.  If we had gotten pregnant when we first started trying to conceive (or for the two years after that), we wouldn’t have become Josh’s parents.  And I know that I was meant to be his mother.  I know it so intimately and deeply that it overwhelms me sometimes.  He is my son. Completely. Unquestionably.

Maybe that assurance and that conviction makes it easier for me to deal with the awkward and uncomfortable situations that come sometimes.  Maybe I don’t feel the need to defend my family and how we got where we are because I can’t control what others are going to think or assume.  Maybe it’s also okay because I refuse to spend Josh’s life justifying it.

The fact that Josh is adopted is something we have no intention of hiding or dancing around.  We couldn’t even if we wanted to because our son has memories and experiences and feelings that don’t involve us, and we want to know everything he remembers so we can help him piece together his own story some day.  He refers to the time period before we came into his life as “when I was little”.  As soon as I hear those words, I stop what I am doing and listen as warmly and attentively as I can.  I also smile because, I mean seriously, how cute is that?

Sure, our story is complicated.  Whose isn’t?  I have to catch myself from assuming that people who do seem to become parents the traditional way don’t have complicated stories.  I am sure there is plenty of unspoken grief, painful loss and confusing times that may not be conveyed in the Instagram version of a person’s story.  I love our story.  I love talking about our story with close friends and family.  I love sharing pieces of our story in my blog and when I speak to groups of people.  But I also hold it sacredly, and I don’t throw it around or respond flippantly to questions that have much more meaning than people may understand when asking them.

Josh is so thoughtful and intuitive.  He is already piecing our story together and asking questions and trying to make sense of who he is in relation to us and to the world.  He loves looking at our wedding pictures, and often he makes comments about wishing he would have been there.  Dave and I just look at each other, smile, and tell him we wish he could have been there too.  Then we remind him that he was already in our hearts, even though we didn’t know it yet.  He likes that.  He seems comforted to know that we existed before him and our love for him proceeded his entry into our family.

And as he gets older and his questions get harder and more complicated, I pray that we will have the courage and the wisdom to speak genuinely about our amazing story- the story of how God made us a family.  And I pray that our son will rest in the assurance that, on May 2, 2008, 3 months after his father and I started dating and my first time meeting Dave’s parents who lived in the same city where Josh was born, God knew that our son had arrived into the world years before we did.  God knew that we were down the road from our baby, and that 4 years later, we would finally find each other.  That’s a complicated story that I could tell over and over again.

So I have decided that I like complicated.  The best and most meaningful things in life seem to be.

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