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The joy and grief of having more children- A tribute to the boy who made me a mom

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Tonight, I gave my son a bath and laid his pj’s on his bed like I usually do.  We read a story and the Bible just like the night before and the night before that.  We snuggled and prayed and gave kisses goodnight as always.  On the surface, tonight was like any other night the past three years.  Except it wasn’t.  Tonight, I put my son to bed as my only child for the last time.

Tomorrow is the day I have longed for since I first saw my two daughters’ faces on a website 6 months ago.  It is both exciting and scary in the same breath.  My little family of three will be a full-blown, full-time family of five.  As ready as I am for all of my babies to be under my roof every night, I am also filled with nostalgia and a bit of grief at losing what we have had the past three years.  When the desire for more kids moved from dream to reality, I felt hesitant to admit my conflicting emotions at first.  But after talking candidly to many parents (both biological and adoptive) over the past few months about our process of adopting the girls and the timeline and how things are going, the most amazing thing happened.  As I shared honestly about my deep love for my son, the boy who made me a mom, and my fear that I wouldn’t ever be able to love any child as much as I love him, I heard the most encouraging words in the world.  “I felt that, too.”

I heard fears like, “What if we can’t adapt?” and “What if it’s too hard?” and “What if I don’t have enough love, energy, dedication, [fill in word here] to parent more than one child?” and “What if my oldest child resents me for this?”  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  And definitely Yes.

I wasn’t alone in my fears, but it didn’t end with that.  Then, my friends and family and sometimes total strangers (I’m extraverted) said more amazing and inspiring things to me.  I heard things like “It becomes the new normal” and “You will figure out what each relationship will look like over time” and “You will love each child completely and uniquely”, and quite simply, “I get it. It will be okay”… and I felt a huge weight lift off my chest.

I realized then that my loyalty and intense love for my son is not the problem.  It’s actually the answer.  Before becoming a mother through adoption, I wondered what it would feel like to love like that.  Like my mom.  Like Harry Potter’s mom.  Like Dumbo’s mom.  And now I know.  I love my son so fervently.  And now, I also love my daughters with intensity and recklessness and boldness, and that feels really good.  And I am trusting that, as time passes, I will learn how to love them each completely and uniquely more and more.

But tonight, on the eve of a complete life shift for all of us, my heart is drawn to my little boy, the one who made me a mom.  He will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will tell him that as often as I can.

Christmas 2012

Christmas 2012

 

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.

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.”