Week 7 Reflection: Her

Having children is like living in a frat house – nobody sleeps, everything’s broken, and there’s a lot of throwing up. – Ray Romano

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. – James Baldwin

Perhaps it takes courage to raise children. – John Steinbeck, East of Eden

kids-making-a-mess

The talk “this week” was about having kids. I put “this week” in quotes because it has been several weeks now since the actual day. This post took me a long time to write for several reasons (several of which I will explore) but not the least of these has been the timing. This was just…. really bad time. I was busy with work and feeling frazzled but most of all it was January. Now that may not sound like anything, just another month, but for me it is big. January, for what reason I have yet to fully pin down, is always a hard month for me. When I say hard month, what I mean is a depressed month. I feel like I am as stable, from a depression stand point as I have been in my adult life, but still, every year, January rocks me. I don’t know if it is the emotional and energy release after the holidays, the snap of cold without the festivity of Christmas carols, or the looming of the ever scary “future” that the new year inevitably brings, but something flips and by mid January I am struggling to keep my emotional stability. I switch to survival mode and everything that is non-essential gets neglected. Even some things that are essential.

 

Anyway, I survived and now it is February and I can breath again, at least a little. So the talk. Hmmmm. Well, to begin with I should start by saying that I don’t hate kids or being around them. I actually really like them. But for me they are not energy givers. For some women (nope, lets broaden that out to people) children give a burst of energy. They are life giving hope springs and being around them makes these people feel fulfilled and happy. That isn’t me. Being around kids is a sacrifice of love. I love them, but I sacrifice my energy in order to be present with them. I don’t regret the sacrifice. I love my nieces. But it is a sacrifice none the less. I require recuperation time after. Decompression before I can continue. It is this truth that has always lead me to the feeling that I love being an aunt but I am on the fence about being “Mom.” Mom doesn’t get a day off. She doesn’t have privacy or down time. She is always Mom, always on. I watch my mother and I am amazed at how much she did and still does for us (and all of her children are fully grown, although two of us still are living with her again). I compare myself to her and I seriously wonder if I could even do it. Do I even have what it takes to be a good mom?

 

And that is where I have always stalled out. And it didn’t matter too much before now. I mean, before I met my love I had no reason to think I would have to consider being a mom. It wasn’t on the table and that didn’t bother me one bit. Now, let me take this moment and clarify that I am not, and have never been, diametrically opposed  to the idea of raising a child/children. When I did spend an odd moment thinking about it it was more of a “mmhe” and since there was no prospect and no regret, that is all the further I would go. I know for certain, I could not do the “stay at home mom” thing. If you can, more power to you. But for me that would rob me of my sanity, what little I had. But I have thought from time to time that I might adopt or foster if God opened the door and pushed me through.

 

So here we sit, in my worst month, and we are talking about children. Now, we had touched on this before and come up with much the response above- both kind of ambivalent and on the nah side of mmhe but neither firmly planted. So we start talking and thinking and exploring and wouldn’t you know it, God brings out the real issue. Fear. The more we talked the more I saw the fear in both of us. Now I still don’t know if children are in our future. I don’t know if that is what God wants for us or what we really want. What I do know is that a lot of what had put us leaning on the “no thanks” side of the argument had more to do with our fears than anything. Fears of having to parent alone, of not having the time to spend with children, of sickness, of mental health, of pain, of loss. Our fears are many and varied and, to be honest, many rooted in solid truth. Many of my fears revolve around making mistakes or choices that would hurt or psychologically damage my kids. I know just a bit too much about embryology and child development to feel safe about pregnancy or parenting. When you know all the ways it can go wrong my brain has a tendency to fixate on those. But the more we talked and the more I prayed the more the same thing kept coming to mind. Whatever we do, I don’t want our lives to be patterned on fear. My dream for our life together is that we build on faith, hope and love. Fear is not what I want to base my decisions on. I don’t want to have kids out of a fear of being forgotten, I don’t want to not have kids out of a fear of screwing them up. Fear cannot be the driving force if I seek to live by faith.

1 John says that perfect love casts out fear. One of the primary aims of this courtship was to ground our relationship and our life together in the foundation of faith and love that comes from being united with Christ. Over the last month I have been struggling with how to write this blog because I was not sure what I wanted to say. The truth was that what I learned most from our conversation and the subsequent conversations it spawned, was that I wanted to make a commitment to not live by fear. It is so easy for me to spiral into fear circles and come up with a million scenarios that justify why my fear should dictate what I do or do not do. But this is counter to the message of the Bible and my desire for our life. I wanted to explore the idea, to really take the time to look my fears in the eye and tell them that they were not going to get to call the shots. I believe that God has a plan, whether that plan includes us having children or not remains to be seen. But I choose now to not put God in a box because I am afraid of what might happen. Fear is the opposite of faith and I choose faith.

 

So, to the love of my life, my favorite person, the only man I would consider raising children with, thank you. Thank you for your honesty, for your openness. Thank you for your willingness to explore the terrifying unknown and see an adventure. Thank you for seeing my fears and not shying away, for loving me in all my crazy. Thank you for riding out the storm, for being there for me every step of the way. I love you so much and whatever God sends our way, I am so glad to be on this adventure with you.

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Week 7 reflection: Him

Already a few weeks into the new year and we have touched on a thought changing, if not life changing, topic. The topic we’ve already touched on. Most couples talk about it within the first few dates. Or, they will at least hint at the topic. As much to my surprise, the topic of children, yes offspring, flew out of the hat and onto our laps. Granted, we pulled several slips out but they seemed to have been topics we have already covered extensively.

As much time as I give it, the thought of kids is a tough one. This paragraph has been written a week after the last and two weeks since our last courtship session. It’s a tough topic! And right now is a difficult time for each of us. I’m working every day and with her watching her cousin, working, and sending in applications, she is busy too. Between a difficult topic and tough times we are between a rock and a hard place.

We make everything work. Earlier this week we met up at Alderwood and watched a movie. It was nice to get our minds off everything and just spend some time together. We make sure to call and text repeatedly. We have also video chatted once last week. I have a feeling that it wasn’t just a difficult conversation about kids that has pushed everything off, but our ability to spend time together. We want to see each other, but there are only so many hours in the week.

That may be a concept that I had been missing in our talks. If we had kids, we couldn’t be selfish about the time we would spend together. I feel like our foundation is laid and we are planning on putting up walls to our relationship (I.e. who to let in and who to keep out). Having kids is an auto include. I can’t help but be on the fence if I’m being honest. I want to spend time with her and, me being selfish, don’t always want to share.

I would love to share! Yup, I’m a hypocrite. If I love her this much, then having another would be great! I’d hope that they would get their mother’s brains and my cynicism. I would love to show them the world. I could get them curious about all sorts of things. We could go on adventures, explore ideas, and have a world of fun. See how easy it is to tip on one side of the fence or the other?

Whatever God chooses for us, we will be ready or we will learn. I hope I’m long around enough to see the decision through. So, to my favorite that someday may be replaced, I love you. Thank you for exploring these difficult topics with me. Thank you for taking each day as they come. I know we will get through the busy schedules. As for tonight, we’ll just make a salad.

End of the year reflection: him

The “her” and I took a break from a concentrated effort on our courtship the last several weeks so we could concentrate surviving the holidays. I’m grateful for the time she got to spend Christmas Day with her family and the thought that this may be our last major holiday away from one another was my favorite gift this year.

I wanted to reflect on the holiday itself and all the events leading up-to my last xmas alone. It wasn’t the hardest I’ve experienced, but it was difficult. I’m also going to say “screw it” and plainly say what I’m thinking.

My oldest brother is an alcoholic. He is most certainly high functioning, but still an alcoholic. He drank the entire time and every time I see him, he is getting drunk. Besides the constant denial around the whole thing, a reality check is what he desperately needs. I complain about this because I wish I could help, but I’ll never have the ability.

That being said, the support, love, and caring I received was more meaningful than the decorations on the tree. I was able to learn a great deal about myself by reflecting with her.

I also wanted to make a point about my mother’s behavior. She handled herself spectacularly and I’m proud of her for that effort. I know she has struggled herself.

My point in all these ramblings and half thoughts is to express exactly that: half thoughts. I realize that while this courtship is attempting to cover many of the huge impending relationship topics, it is only covering half of the relationship, the half of planning and expectations. The other half, the messy half, is always at our doorstep waiting to let it self in without knocking.

She has done a wonderful job protecting me from shock and surprise. I have attempted likewise to do the same. I mean, we have given each other a run down of all the family history. While that seems like a great idea right before a get-together or holiday, I noticed that the emotional energy then gets weighed on the warner. I feel more conscience warning her about my family members than bracing her. I have a feeling that she is the same way. You can sometime expect the messy half to show up, but it’s just more stress.

The holidays were difficult. Messy had shown up and stayed, but I feel like I have been able to talk it out, process, and move on. I want to thank my other in all of this. Without her, the holidays would have been more of a nuclear explosion of emotion than a firecracker on the foot that it was. We will keep working on the planned so that we may be at our best for the unplanned. Thank you.

End of the year Reflection: Her

I am not starting with a quote this time but a thought of my own. This post is about juxtaposition- the old next to the new, tradition next to exploration, our families of origin next to our families of choice, our past next to our future. I wanted to take a moment at the turn of the year to sit on this threshold and consider all that has been and all that will be. This post spans 3 weeks over which we continued to talk and delve but in a less formal fashion and so I wanted the post to feel a little different too.

We decided after tackling finances and heading into holidays that we needed a break (no not from each other- we are not Rachel and Ross). We have had some very intense (good, but hard hitting) weeks since starting up this official courtship. We decided that with the pressure of the holidays we wanted to take a little lighter approach to us. Basically, we wanted our time together to feel like a haven and oasis in the crazy for a bit. So we decided to skip the hat and pick a “trivial” topic for the week before Christmas and then “break” for the next two weeks. And God laughed.

We chose traditions and holidays as our last topic of the year and in form with what God’s been doing, it was way more than we had anticipated. We both kind of went “oh that should be fun!” And then promptly realized how intimate and vulnerable those areas actually are. Our families are quite different in many ways and, at least for me, evaluating what traditions I hold most dear and why was quite revealing.

As I thought about what I love about each holiday and tradition I thought about the compromise that is partnership. It isn’t fair to think we will simply adopt all of mine and I will go on unchanged. In fact as I looked at my traditions many of them were things my immediate family had started and it became clear that that was part of their charm. What I found was that the traditions and holidays I loved best were the ones that were highly tied to someone I loved or to feeling close to someone we had lost.

This sent my head whirling in every direction. When the dust settled I found myself in a new question entirely- what traditions will we make. Genesis talks about couples leaving their families of origin to start a new family. I found myself wondering what our family traditions would look like. Understanding that tradition is meant to remind us of our unique places in all of our circles past and present helps me envision how old and new traditions might merge. This merging is played out in the season itself. One of the most tradition rich holidays for me (Christmas) jammed right up against a holiday all about letting go of the old to embrace the new (New Year). The mixed emotions and difficult balance of the two, for me, defines the whole month of December. I spend the whole month walking that edge, dealing internally and externally with the unease, excitement, anticipation and apprehension of it. Sometimes I feel crazy because my feelings swing so rapidly and so extremely.

This last week at church the pastor talked about innovation and model vs mission. I am struck by how appropriate and timely it was not only for the church but (selfishly) for my own life and relationship. His key point was that, especially in the church, we can get confused and forget that mission is what God calls us to but the model is constantly changed to fit the changes in the needs around us. My traditions, be they church or family, must be subject to the more important vision of mission. In both my church and my family (they really are the same thing) this means remembering why tradition is important in the first place. Connection and belonging. That means when I want to make room for connection and belonging with someone new (my partner or a new generation of believers) I need to make room in my life for new traditions that we make together.

To do this I have to do several things. First I have to be open and willing to try new things. New traditions can feel awkward or uncomfortable at first and not all attempts at tradition stick so I have to be willing to get my hands dirty and try things. Secondly it requires that I be willing to give up some of my old traditions to make room for the new ones. There are some traditions that occupy the same space and therefore cannot co-exist, one has to give way to the other or the two may blend and make a third distinct tradition. There is only so much time and emotional bandwidth so concessions must sometimes be made. This brings me to the third requirement and that is communicating with honesty, humility and vulnerability what is the most important to me and why. I cannot expect that all of my thoughts and feelings about any given tradition will be known or shared and so communicating the meaning of the tradition is important. That doesn’t mean I will get to keep it unchanged but it will help us to navigate how to make important traditions as we go forward by combining, creating and preserving.

With so much to chew on we really needed the three weeks we took. We started planning finances together and talked about goals and hopes for the new year. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of tears and an astonishing amount of vulnerability, but that is literally the name of the game. I am overwhelmingly grateful for the extended time to mull over these topics and so excited to move forward into the next ones.

So, (to hold onto some traditions while making room for new things) to the love of my life, my partner and my friend, the man I want to join in every part of my life, thank you so much for celebrating with me. Thank you for exploring and creating and excavating with me. I can’t wait to see what this new year holds and the traditions we will build in our life together.

Week 6 Reflection: Her

A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.

-Dave Ramsey

A budget tells us what we can’t afford, but it doesn’t keep us from buying it.

-William Feather

The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.

-Jack Lew

The dreaded “money talk.” This weeks talk was all about finances and budgets. I couldn’t have come at a better or worse time. No better time because there is nothing like starting a new year off right and prioritizing, no worse time because Christmas has a tendency to strain the budget to the max. In short it was perfect and, as always, in God’s timing.

I am not so great at budgeting or rather at staying on a budget. I put a high priority on generosity which is difficult to budget. I also just don’t like having to think that much before I buy something (probably a bad habit). My solution in the past has always been to over budget knowing that the cushion will balance my spending. Unfortunately that doesn’t lead to a lot of savings.

As we had our discussion a couple things came to light. First, we agreed on how we would like to see a budget done. We both like the idea of a detailed budget with contingency and buffer funds. Second, neither of us is particularly good at sticking to the budget. But the last was the most enlightening. We do not have the same stories with money. That is to say, the meanings that are attached to money and spending money are very different.

I’ve never really been equated with the money I do or don’t have. Maybe that has to do with my family culture, maybe it is more larger culture or maybe personal experiences. Whatever the cause, this has not been true of my love. His experiences with money and relationships have left more than holes in his wallet, they have left scars on hi heart. Understanding this vulnerability and concern was important and not something I anticipated. I had geared up for this being a practical but not particularly emotional week and found that in fact it was a very vulnerable topic for my man.

I learned so much about how to love him and what he needs to feel secure and valued. I am so grateful that God’s timing is perfect and He knew we needed this topic at this time. We talked about prioritizing tithing, generosity and savings while delving into past experiences and dissecting why they made us feel the ways we did. It was a wonderful talk.

So to my amazing boyfriend, the love of my life and the partner of my choice, thank you for sharing. Thank you for opening up about what money means to you, your hurts and your fears. I love and respect you so much and I am excited about this new chapter .

Week 6 reflection: him

I wanted to take this week to reflect more on the week than on the conversation. Our topic was finances. Simply put, we realized quickly that the topic was less down-the-road and more on our front doorstep. The reality hit much harder than anticipated that we would need to start figuring out finances if we were going to move together. While the panic of talking money was already enough for me to bear, the real stress came from everything else in the week.

We both had a ton of firsts this week. We opened our first joint Christmas present together (matching pajamas), we had our first couples date (the Andy’s at Mox), and we had our first shared frustration. Without going into too much detail, I’ll say that we were fairly upset by one person’s attitude and actions. It wasn’t anything too big for me, still upsetting though. However, for my counterpart in crime, it was too much too far.

She makes life a lot easier for me. The main way she does this is by constantly revealing what she wants. She voices what she wants all the time. I hear “oh how cute!”, “isn’t that adorable?”, and “don’t you just love it?”. Every time we go into a store is another opportunity to find something she likes. She loves to love and be excited. Most of the time she thinks about others. Those initial expletive statements are always followed by, “(fill in blank), would love that”. The amount of love she has to give is more than she can give in a lifetime.

I saw two concerns with this last week, both involving me. The first, financially, I’m going to need to learn how to be comfortable with her gift giving. I’m not very good at receiving gifts or spending too much. The second, I’m going to have to learn what to do when we are both upset. This second one is much harder to explain.

Essentially, this last weekend we went back and forth with anxiety, anger, and depression. At times, I was confused and couldn’t identify what the heck was eating at me. Other times, she was overwhelmed, but couldn’t figure out what was going on. It wasn’t until we sat down for dinner that is dawned on both of us: Saturday was a difficult day, albeit a good one. We both had the same reaction to a shared event. We both were bothered by the same comments. We both couldn’t figure out what was happening.

We talked through the feelings. It helped to map out what had happened and we were able to share a moment of emotional release. Really, it was our first time taking care of each other emotionally. This is something that being single is much harder to accomplish.So, while I can worry away about finances and she can take care of me, and I can take care of her with her “gremlins”, it is wonderful to know that we can take care of one another. This last week was fraught with all sorts of emotions, some good and some not-so-good. I know that will continue down this path towards discussing the difficult topics.

Week 5: Her

It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This post, as you may have noticed, is a bit late getting up. Part of the reason is that my life was quite hectic the past week, part of it was that I was unsure how I wanted to approach the subject, but a large part was because it makes me homesick.

This weeks topic was about how we choose a faith community. This is near and dear to my heart because I have had such wonderful (and also less than wonderful) experiences in my past with this. As I dwelt on how it is that I have chosen a local body in the past and what I will look for going forward, my heart kept coming back to my faith community in PA.

Life has not been particularly easy the last 7 years and the only way I could have made it through is by the grace of God and the wonderful body of believers he settled me in. These people became my family and prayed over and with me through the darkest and most difficult days of my life. They are precious to me and I am grateful for them every day. Most of the call (or have called at some point) Hope Community Church (King of Prussia) home, although not all. All have been dedicated to growing together, seeking God and serving people.

This is the kind of community I look for. Nothing is going to be the same as my last home (even we’re I to return to the same building, the body is a dynamic, growing organism not a static establishment). But the key elements are ones I have learned to prioritize in choosing a church.

1. Christ centered and biblically based. While this may seem simple, it is very profound. The church is not a social club but a gathering of people to pursue a closer relationship with God and others. As the body of Christ, it is important that we are “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2a-NASB). Worship is not just music (although it is one of the most accessible forms of worship and very important) and it is important that our community is a body of worshipers who worship “in spirit and in truth.” This is the first criteria we use when choosing a church.

2. Welcoming and inclusive community. As we talked we both concluded that inclusion is an important part of church for us. Again, church isn’t a social club, you don’t just get to include people you like or find interesting. Paul is very clear in Corinthians that God’s body should not be a place where only one kind of person is welcome. When looking for a church to call home, we feel strongly that it should be not only a place that makes us feel welcome but all people. Jesus got a ton of flack for it but he modeled perfectly for us- he associated with “tax collectors and sinners” as well as the religious elite, the wealthy, the poor, the sick and the well. Jesus didn’t exclude any group from the conversation and neither should we. You will inevitably have some people who are closer to each other than others but it is the job of the entire church to actively be watching for the person who feels outside, alone, or rejected and make them feel welcomed, a part of the community and loved. A loving church is the kind we want to be a part of.

3. Service and outward focused. Speaking of love, love is active. James points out that while our gospel is not one of works ( you don’t earn heaven by doing more good things), a faith without action is dead. We cannot claim to represent Love himself and yet sit idly by in our bubble and take care of only ourself and good luck to the world and the rest of our body home and abroad. John 3:16 says “God so love the world that he GAVE his one and only son”. Love cannot be separated from giving- time, money, support, energy, food, clothes, acceptance. Giving is at the heart of love. A community that does not make giving to each other and the world at large, is out of touch with the heart of God, which responds to a hurting and distant world by drawing close and giving sacrificially.

At the end of our conversation we concluded that truthfully we will need to walk it out as we take this topic head on. We can’t fully know how we will choose a community of worship until we choose a community of worship. But understanding what is important to us is crucial.

So, to my partner and my friend, my brother in Christ and co-worshiper. Thank you so much for being with me on this journey. Thank you for prioritizing our faith and insisting (with me) that we consider and choose our local church family carefully. Thank you for serving God and others with me. I am so blessed to have you by my side.