Category Archives: Faith

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.

The Madness and Sanity of Parenting

josh in tree

While sitting in a research meeting on campus yesterday, my phone rang.

Oh no. My son’s school. 

“Josh is fine, but there was an incident, and we want to meet with you.  Today.”  My heart is beating out of my chest.  I am told that I don’t have to come now, but that it needs to be before pick-up.  “Wait…But hurry.”

Uggh.. This part is so hard.  The waiting.  The uncertainty.  The fear.  That out-of-control feeling when you realize your kid, however young he may be, is a real person capable of having his own thoughts and making his own decisions.  She wouldn’t give me any details over the phone, but after hearing the director’s tone and choice of words, I was pretty sure my son was the offender.  This filled me with a range of emotions from fear to guilt to concern to helplessness.  “What if it’s really bad?”  “How will I respond?”  I realized that allowing my imagination to run wild was not productive for my stress level or sanity, so I tried to quiet those voices and pray.  I prayed that I would handle the situation graciously and thoughtfully.  I prayed that I would be receptive and not quick to judgment or anger.  (Both toward my son and toward others involved).  But mostly, I prayed for my son.  I prayed that he would know the love and forgiveness of God and trust in the love and forgiveness of his parents.

I didn’t know how I would feel when I found out the specifics of the incident in question, but I knew this.  I wasn’t going to reject my son, no matter what the school told me or what he had done.  I know my boy.  He is sensitive and empathic and intuitive, and he knows the feeling of rejection so acutely already.  My mind was imagining the worst possible scenarios, and as I played them out, I pictured myself moving toward my son in love and grace, reminding him that even when I am mad and disappointed and hurt (which I will be at times because that is a part of relationships and the impact our actions have on others), his offenses will never be greater than my love and commitment to him as my son.

In typical Karin fashion, I have now built up this story to an anti-climactic point where I tell you that, although the offense was definitely disobedient and even dangerous, it was not among the worst of the fears that bounced around my head on my drive over to the school.  That is a technique I use as a counselor, too.  Think of the worst case scenario.  Process how you would handle it and what it would feel like.  Now imagine an equally plausible scenario that is not so horrible.  How does that feel?  Okay, if I am being honest, my approach in the car may not have been as therapeutic as I just described.  But the relief I felt was palpable nonetheless.  And for the record, I can say that his sweet and intuitive teacher handled it superbly, and I am grateful for that.

After a positive and encouraging interaction with the director and teacher, I was eager to walk down to my son’s classroom and receive him with grace and love.  When I came in, he gave me a sheepish smile and wavered before walking over to me.  He was trying to read my face and body language to see if I knew, and he was watching me to see how I would respond.  I smiled and said, “Let’s go home.”  He walked slowly next to me, looking at me every so often, then looking back down.  I didn’t make much small talk, but I didn’t give him the cold shoulder either.  I just walked with him.  I put him in the car, then came around and sat next to him in the back seat.  He was surprised and kind of laughed, not knowing what I was up to.

I looked my son in the eye, told him I loved him, smiled slightly but intently, then asked him to tell me what happened today.  As we sat there together, I watched my son wrestle through the events of the day painfully in his mind, telling me bits and pieces, then withdrawing.  This cycle went on a few times, then finally, after most of the story had been retold from his perspective along with remorse and guilt, he said the thing I had been fearing and praying through since I first got the call.  He said he was afraid I wouldn’t forgive him.  He spoke the words with such raw emotion and genuineness, and he wouldn’t look at me after he said them.  I turned my son’s face to mine, kissed his nose, and told him that I forgive him and I love him, and I always will.  Always.  Then we had a serious conversation about obedience, respect, and thinking about consequences before acting.

There is a line from the movie Spanglish that reminds me of my feelings yesterday.  The main character says, “Worrying about your children is sanity.  And being that sane is enough to drive you nuts.”  In the midst of all the stress and anxiety I felt yesterday afternoon, I also experienced a deep sense of gratitude.  I have wanted to be a parent my whole life.  Now I am a parent, and sometimes my child drives me nuts.  I love this little person so much and so deeply that it makes me feel crazy sometimes.  But in those moments when I get wrapped up in my own craziness of worrying about my child, I also remind myself that I cannot control him or protect him from the world’s problems or make all of his decisions for him.  He is his own little person with a will and a mind and a heart and a body and a soul.  I have been given the privilege of being his mother.  And with that privilege comes a great deal of responsibility and diligence.  But every day, whether we put our kids on school buses or home school them, whether they live in our house or have a house and a family of their own, we have to release our children into the world and hope and pray they will be okay. (Mom, I get it now.)

Being a parent is the most maddening and sane thing I have ever done.  And even though yesterday was a tough day, it was important.  Josh needs those moments.  He needs to make bad choices and mess up sometimes.  And I need those moments, too.  I need to be reminded of my lack of control and trust God in my parenting.

The poet Kahlil Gibran sums up the complicated and beautiful mystery of caring for your children and releasing them at the same time.  Here is an excerpt that is meaningful to me.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I pray that I will be a stable and glad bow for my son, the adventurous and spirited arrow.

And I hope for no more school phone calls any time soon.

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.”

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

The Summer of Goodbyes

Image

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.