Category Archives: Community

Love hurts and heals

Ari 3

Love really is such a complex word to define.  It’s a verb and a noun.  It’s a value; it’s a command.  It makes the world go round and it never fails.  Love is all you need.

If these sentiments are all true, why does it seem so hard to obtain this kind of pure and exhaustive love?  What does it mean to love fully? Can we humans ever really do it?  From a spiritual perspective, I would say no.  Not apart from God anyway.   But that doesn’t let us off the hook for trying.  As flawed as our human view on love may be, I believe there are moments when we can experience true, authentic love and connection.  These are glimpses of what real love is supposed to look and feel like, and they are often missed because our own fear, shame, pride, and insecurity get in the way from really being able to experience it.  When these moments happen and we actually notice them, it’s like we transcend our humanity and tap into the supernatural. A heartfelt and joyful laugh over childhood memories with my siblings; a tight hug from my son when he is scared; crying with dear friends when someone is going through intense heartbreak.  In those moments, if I am attuned enough to notice, I thank God, and I think to myself, “This is love.”  It’s real and vulnerable and divine.

These past few weeks, I feel like I have been living in that place of real, raw, deep love.  Some dear friends of ours have been undergoing unimaginable heartache and adversity.  Their newborn daughter, Ari, is only 2 weeks old, and she has been battling for her life every day of it.  When I think about what my friends are going through, I can’t imagine how they are functioning.  But every day, they reach out to their loved ones by writing texts and blog updates about their little girl, along with their own fears and struggles and prayers.  By the end of these correspondences, I find myself encouraged and spurred on by their hope and their love.  They have chosen to love their daughter and those around them boldly and genuinely, even through fear and uncertainty.  I have seen such an outpouring of love toward them, for them, from them, and around them that just being near to the situation makes me feel more whole and connected.

It seems that in our most painful and despairing moments, we can experience the most love.  As I think back on how deeply loved I felt when we went through the process of adoption, I remember all of the raw emotions and intense vulnerability I displayed to those around me during that season out of sheer necessity.  And because of that genuineness, I allowed people to truly love me and be loved by me in return.  I don’t know which one comes first.  I imagine it changes depending on the circumstances.  By choosing to take the risk and be vulnerable, I experienced such deep and intimate connection in my relationships during that overwhelming and emotionally exhausting time in my life.  I am not sure how I would have gotten through it without that.

As I watch my dear friends choose to be vulnerable, choose to be real and raw and connected, it has inspired me to do the same.  That’s the amazing thing about being unguarded and choosing to love even when the world may tell us to pull in and shut down.  It inspires people.

After two weeks of intensive medical interventions and thousands of prayers, baby Ari is taking some huge steps forward.  Some of the big, scary machines are gone, and my friends are finally able to hold their daughter.  She is not out of the woods, but the relief and gratitude for her progress is palpable to all who are invested in this baby girl’s life.  Because my friends chose to be vulnerable and let us in to their very personal and painful battle, they have provided their child with an enormous network of love.  I know that for the rest of Ari’s life, she will hold a special place in my heart because I feel so invested in her life already.

Ari 1                    Ari 2

I would never wish for my loved ones to undergo hardship.  And I can’t begin to understand why things happen the way they do.  So maybe the question isn’t “Why do bad things happen?” Maybe the real question is, “Will you choose to love and hope no matter what?”  My friends have. They have taught me not to be afraid to love fully.  Even when it really hurts.  “This is love.”

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. 🙂

The Summer of Goodbyes

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I hate goodbyes.  I tend to be a symbolic person, which can be overwhelming during a season of goodbyes.  I become consumed with honoring “lasts”, like the “last group hang-out”, “the last after-church lunch”, “the last birthday party” or “the last time watching our favorite tv show together”.  I hesitate to put anything concrete on the calendar in case my soon-to-be-departing loved ones want to get together to hang out or drop by or even stare at each other.

I have had good friends move away before, even several who have left in the same season. (A natural consequence of living in a college town.)  But this time feels different.  One element that adds a level of grief is that, coincidentally, all of my departing friends are moving far enough away that it is impossible to visit without plane tickets or a laborious car ride.   Another level of impact is the short duration in which all of these close friends are leaving.   In a span of 10 weeks, I will have said goodbye to 8 of the dearest friends I have ever had.  Beyond both of those elements is the reality that these close friends have walked with me through the most difficult, confusing, amazing season of my life.  These people prayed for us weekly and listened to our laments as Dave and I tried to conceive.  They encouraged and supported us as we began exploring adoption, and then they rejoiced with us and showered us with love and gifts when we learned that we would be parents to a 4-year-old boy.  They poured into me as I adjusted to my new role as a mother, and I witnessed their outpouring of acceptance and compassion toward my son, too.  These people have demonstrated love to him, have consistently invested in him, and have made effort to develop lasting relationships with him.  It means the world to me to see my dear friends love and cherish my son.  And it is so personal for me because these are the same people that wept with me as I yearned to be a mother for so long.  They look at Josh with a similar awe and gratitude that we do because they really know what a gift he is.

There is a small part of me that feels like shutting down relationally for a while.  I put myself out there, developed some genuine, meaningful relationships, and now I am undergoing heartbreak every few weeks of this summer as I say goodbye to more and more of them.  Even as an extreme extrovert, the thought of starting over with a bunch of new people, or even deepening relationships with people I already know, seems exhausting.  And maybe there is a part of me that needs to honor that feeling.  Instead of jumping into new friend groups and social situations, maybe I need a brief stint of introspection and regrouping.  As a mental health counselor, I have plenty of feedback for myself about allowing time to grieve, focusing on the positive consequences of engaging in genuine relationships, and then getting back up on the relational horse.  I want to trust that God will both sustain my existing relationships and provide me with new, meaningful connections to fill in some of the gaps that these friends have left behind.  But a part of me doesn’t want to move on.  I feel like a preschooler having a tantrum (something I know plenty about these days).  “I want MY friends, and if I can’t have them, then I don’t want ANY friends!”  My grown-up logic would say that this argument is counter-productive and only really hurtful to the one engaging in this tantrum (that would be me in this scenario).  But when my teenage and grown-up clients engage in this type of thinking, I challenge them to own their choices boldly and thoughtfully.  Basically, that would mean my saying, “I recognize that my perspective on my friends leaving is irrational; however, I am choosing to be irrational right now.  I recognize that I cannot maintain this irrational thinking and live productively, so I will re-visit this irrational belief in the near future.  But for now, it’s working for me.”

I want to retreat.  I want to pout.  I want to take my friendship ball and go home.  But here’s the thing.  I know that I have tons of people staying in Gainesville that are meaningful to me and that I have genuine relationships with.  I also know that I have an incredible web of support and love all over the country now, which is pretty amazing when I really think about it.   A dear friend who is not moving (thank God) reminded me recently that, even though no one can replace the friends that have moved, there are people around me that would welcome a deeper relationship and more intimate connection.  Maybe I haven’t been able to see them because so many of my relational needs were already being met.  Good reminder.  I needed that.

So I will press on.  I will dispute my irrational beliefs and choose to move toward people.  I will challenge myself to be open to developing and deepening relationships with others in my immediate communities, while still holding on to the bonds of my precious, unique, life-changing community that is now spread across the country.  There is a Girl Scout song that is ringing in my ears involving friends and different types of alloys.  Those Girl Scouts really know what they are talking about.

I will even try to enjoy my summer amidst all of the goodbyes.  After all, I have a lot to be thankful for this season.