Helping vs. Presence

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“Have you tried this pill, acupuncture, special diet, yoga, etc. etc. etc.? My friend did and she got pregnant.”

“I know people who have adopted first and then had their kids naturally afterwards so that can happen for you too!”

“Have you tried getting prayed over by this pastor or going to this healing conference? This pastor/conference has a special anointing for your situation. They’ve had a lot of couples get pregnant.” 

“Just pray harder.”  “Have more faith.”  “Keep believing.”  “It’s all in God’s timing.”  “It will happen, just be patient.”

This is some of the well-intentioned advice I’ve been given (and still given) these past couple of years in this season of trying to start a family. With continuously receiving news on the different ways your body is broken, then given glimmers of hope, and then more disappointing news, it’s a cruel emotional and physical rollercoaster to be forced to be on.  And though I love and appreciate the well meaning family and friends wanting to help…..in really tough seasons like this, it’s not the help that I need…Instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, what I need is someone who chooses to patiently share in my pain and touch my wounds with a warm and tender hand. One of my favorite writers, Parker Palmer, puts it best when he says, “Advice-giving comes naturally to our species, and is mostly done with good intent. But in my experience, the driver behind a lot of advice has as much to do with self-interest as interest in the other’s needs — and some advice can end up doing more harm than good.” And this isn’t to say I haven’t been guilty of this myself. Trust me, being a 2 on the enneagram (appropriately called the “Helper”), not wanting to help can be quite the challenge for me.  And whether I chose the jobs and vocations I’ve had or they chose me, they all definitely had some role of helping others that are in need (education, ministry, non-profit, etc.).  It’s a role I was used to, a role I felt was expected of me, and a role I automatically think is mine to fill.  I’ve done some work in counseling and personal reflection to be self-aware of my shadow side of the Helper and to work to be a healthy Helper instead, something I am still learning to master.

The first time I understood the power of presence over helping was in seminary.  My parents who had planted, pastored, and shepherd our home church were being accused and attacked by a small but very vocal group of elders and eventually those attacks even spread to me and my brother.  This brought a whole lot of ugly into what I had viewed as the community I had grown up with, the extended family that had helped shape me and whom I had trusted. And through years of “trying to understand” the sacrifices and pain that my entire family bore in supporting my father’s call into pastoral ministry, I had reached the end of any understanding that was left and was finally pushed into deep resentment and anger that I had tried to push behind me.  And eventually that led me to question not only my own calling into ministry but my faith in the church and even in God’s goodness.  My world as I had know it had begun to crumble around me and I felt like it left me behind inside a cavernous hole of disappointment and depression.

Immediately the helpers jumped in with their advice and ways to cheer me up. Some told me that I needed to forgive those who hurt me and my family in order to move on and prayed that the spirit of anger and bitterness would break in me. Some tried to encourage me by telling me that because my parents were faithful, that it would bear fruit in a matter of time. Some in trying to be in solidarity with me, in reality were projecting their own angry feelings towards church and christianity to what was happening to me, saying ‘this is the reason why I can’t stand churches and their politics.” A lot of the advice was probably true and insightful in their own way, but it didn’t help me out of my depression. And sometimes it made me feel worse.

But it was a few sisters at seminary and a few outside who gave me the “mere” act of witnessing my pain and anger.  They would always come by and drop off food, wouldn’t judge me if I didn’t want to get out of bed or bathe or was wearing the same clothes I had on for a whole week, and held me when I needed to cry.  Having another person listen to my innermost feelings and vulnerable thoughts and to give me the opportunity to be completely “real” with another person was the powerful change agent that began my healing.

Again Parker Palmer:

“Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.
Aye, there’s the rub. Many of us “helper” types are as much or more concerned with being seen as good helpers as we are with serving the soul-deep needs of the person who needs help. Witnessing and companioning take time and patience, which we often lack — especially when we’re in the presence of suffering so painful we can barely stand to be there, as if we were in danger of catching a contagious disease. We want to apply our “fix,” then cut and run, figuring we’ve done the best we can to “save” the other person.”

We all like to run from discomfort or try our best to make it go away.  But I think the gift of sitting with our discomfort and those of others is the deep connection that can occur with the consistent gift of presence….and nothing more.

In the same article, Parker Palmer talks of the time he struggled with depression:

“During my depression, there was one friend who truly helped. With my permission, Bill came to my house every day around 4:00 PM, sat me down in an easy chair, and massaged my feet. He rarely said a word. But somehow he found the one place in my body where I could feel a sense of connection with another person, relieving my awful sense of isolation while bearing silent witness to my condition. By offering me this quiet companionship for a couple of months, day in and day out, Bill helped save my life. Unafraid to accompany me in my suffering, he made me less afraid of myself. He was present — simply and fully present — in the same way one needs to be at the bedside of a dying person. It’s at such a bedside where we finally learn that we have no “fix” or “save” to offer those who suffer deeply. And yet, we have something better: our gift of self in the form of personal presence and attention, the kind that invites the other’s soul to show up.”

I love that. Our gift of self in the form of personal presence and attention invites the other’s soul to show up.  And that’s what’s been most true to me in this season.  The rare times I’ve had with those who had given me that gift, really did allow my soul to show up…and to help me get back up again and to try again…because it reminded me, with God’s help, how resilient my soul can be.

So if you know someone who is going through something particularly difficult, remind yourself the words of Anne Lamott – “Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. Help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.”  When you want to give advice….just don’t. Unless someone really asks and insists for some. Ask Parker Palmer wisely says, “Instead, be fully present, listen deeply, and ask the kind of questions that give the other a chance to express more of his or her own truth, whatever it may be.”

And if you’re on the other end of receiving unwanted advice from someone close to you, just give them a smile and ask politely to help you by not helping you.  Or help them not to help you so much by sending them Parker Palmer’s article here: https://onbeing.org/blog/the-gift-of-presence-the-perils-of-advice/

 

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Truth in weakness

I’m realizing more and more that on our journey in this side of life, truth is usually found and realized in the midst of experiencing the depths and limitations of our weakness and fragility as human beings.  This video link below is a Ted Talk of Anne Lamont sharing the 12 truths she’s learned through life and writing. So much of what she said resonated with me and touches often upon this realization.

Some things that stuck out:

“Out true person is outside time and space….I’m every age I’ve ever been.”

“All truth is a paradox”

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…..including you.”

“We can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world, they have to find their own way, their own answers…..you have to release them.”

“Our help is usually is not usually helpful. Help is usually the sunnyside of control.”

“Try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”

“Earth is forgiveness school. It begins with forgiving yourself.”

“Grace is spiritual WD40….The mystery of grace is that God loves Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Putin and me exactly as much as He or She loves your new grandchild.”

“Laughter is really carbonated holiness”

“When all is said and done, we’re really all just walking each other home.”

12 Truths I Learned From Life and Writing | Anne Lamont

So I know many of you have been waiting patiently for this next blog entry.  The original draft was mostly completed and ready to be posted up sometime today.  It detailed out the rollercoaster ride Tai and I have been on these past 2.5 years trying to get pregnant with all the ways people advise you to try – diet, exercise, acupuncture, “just have a lot of sex without being stressed” (cue eye roll), timing ovulation, eastern and western medicine, doctors, specialists, tests and more tests…And while I’m writing about life that has already happened, life continues to happen…unexpected things that throw you for a curveball and make you realize there’s more you might have to look into regarding your plans. To pause and to wait yet again. Not such a bad thing really in the grand scheme of things.

But you have to understand something….when you’ve been living in a constant state of limbo for a long time, when you think you’ve finally found some clarity into a decision after you’ve been feeling like every previous hopeful step towards something has been answered with a constant “NO” or “It’s not possible”…..that moment of clarity feels like a gift from God, a dose of hope you desperately are needing….like ok, ALL this crap we just went through sucked but it’s finally brought is HERE, THIS is it. We can finally move forward…so even though there might be more steps in the discernment process, sometimes you take the leap and start planning.  And then as you take these steps forward (like sharing this blog in order to invite people to help support and walk with you in the decision that you made), some things you never thought to consider present themselves to you, making you indecisive and wary of moving forward because you’re now reconsidering everything that you thought you had processed through with this decision as well as other ones that you’re now thinking was dismissed too quickly….And you feel discouraged and guilty towards everyone around you, especially your poor husband who is most impacted by my actions, inactions, or change in actions in this journey while trying to be as supportive as he can in this journey that he too has been greatly affected by and is processing.

So here I am trying hard not to cringe and bury my head in a hole because I feel like I should’ve waited to share publicly with all 250 of you…I honestly feel like a rock stuck in a hard place….I made this commitment to share our story with you to help us build support around what we thought would be our “big news.”  But it looks like we will need more time before and if we do so….(at least I may need to rethink sharing this way with what ended up being a much bigger group of people than expected and with something that is of this nature). Sometimes in life, especially when you’re still in a difficult season, you find it harder to find confidence in your own voice and the decisions that you make. Even when you thought at the time it seemed crystal clear and you were sure of your decision and words….and the steps you were taking felt wise even.  You see, when the past 2.5 years, all the choices and steps you have made have resulted in one disappointment after another…..it breaks you. Your spirit, your courage, your heart. And it’s pretty humbling realizing that the original purpose in sharing vulnerably about our difficult journey to reveal some good news is not something you can do anymore…not at this time.

And of course we will eventually move forward….we are just realizing there’s just a lot of both internal and external things we still need to process through.  And who knows, a month from now or several months from now, it might bring us back to the same decision but hopefully with even more clarity and gumption. I know some of you reading this have been through longer and even more difficult journeys than ours.  And you might currently be in the middle of one.  We would love to know if you are. If anything, we’d love to be able to be a listening ear and to pray for you as we also desperately covet your prayers at this time.  And though we appreciate your well intentions to give advice or offer up solutions, what we need most from our friends and family is the “behind the scenes” type of support – your prayers, presence, and friendship.  I know this leaves still a lot of questions for you about what’s going on with us and we hope we can share it with you….when we are ready.  You can always ask, but please don’t be offended if neither of us have the energy to talk about this if we ever talk in person or over the phone…..

I’m not sure how you all will receive this but thank you. Thank you for being interested, for wanting to know about our story, and caring enough to be invested in our lives. And thank you for understanding that life is a constant journey of learning…a messy one at that…one that builds up, breaks down, dismantles and changes you.  Thank you for doing life with us in different ways, at different times, but with the same unconditional love.

We love you and thanks for listening.

 

Part 1: How it all Started…

Neah here. So you might be asking, why start with sharing a blog? Why not just tell us the big news first?  It’s funny, when I first started this secret blog about 5 years ago, it was meant to be an artistic and creative outlet just for myself to log beautiful stories, music, and art from the most unlikely of sources.  Think “Humans of New York” meets “Tiny Desk Concerts” meets “street art.” And secret because I didn’t want the pressure of my perfectionism getting in the way if others would be reading it. I just wanted to write freely.  Never did I imagine this blog would be a place where Tai and I would share one of the most difficult seasons of our lives…and with all 250 of you at that!  This definitely is a big step for us, especially for my introverted and private husband…but one we both feel is important in order to invite our community, to not only understand what brought us to our present reality, but to join us in where we feel led  this next season (aka the BIG news). Since our community is spread out all over the world, and some of you we haven’t seen or talked to in years, inviting you into our story in this way is to hopefully build deeper connections with us as we continue our journey.  Though I can’t promise that the writing will be great, it’ll be real and honest….so please stay with us. I promise, at the very least, you will get to know our hearts better at the end of this.

It’s almost ironically prophetic that the title would be so fitting to what these past few years have been…Taken from a quote found in one of my favorite books by Madeleine Engle “Walk on Water”, she goes on to describe all true art as cosmos within chaos…and that the artist’s role is finding the cosmos within the chaos of this world rather than just seeing and reproducing that chaos.  It reminds me of the Psalmist when he says

O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy are those who take refuge in him. O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want. The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

Sometimes seeing chaos in our world seems a lot easier to do than to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  For us, that couldn’t have been more true these past few years while we were taking steps of faith into multiple big life transitions…the pain, confusion, and grief that followed felt pretty chaotic and the mere challenge to see the “cosmos“, the “beauty” of God’s hand in those places, felt so daunting, even impossible at times.

They say hindsight is 20/20 but I’m not sure if I believe that. I think on this side of life we will never have 100% clarity in the whats and whys of life. Instead I think we are given glimpses and pocket moments of beauty…beauty that sometimes isn’t seen or felt right away, but eventually unfolds itself into our hearts and souls shifting the way we see and live life…beauty that doesn’t necessarily make sense of the chaos, but brings greater courage, compassion, and freedom to live and love whole-heartedly through the chaos, trusting that the God of love is working behind it all.  And the thing is, no matter who we are, we must all go through the chaos. I think that’s why things like wine, ice-cream, dancing, and puppies exist. Not to mention prayer….Oh and lamentations….laaaaaaaamentations. Real life lamentations.

So on September 1, 2015, this particular chaos started when I woke up from a dream: I was pregnant and Tai and I were elated as we both felt the baby moving around in my belly.  You would think after having a dream like that I would wake up with excitement and joy, but instead I woke up feeling anxious and disturbed. You see, although I had always dreamt of being married one day and having children, the thought of being pregnant frightened me.  It wasn’t because I didn’t love children or didn’t want them. I remember even as early as elementary school holding other people’s babies at church and taking care of the younger children….Even when I learned about foster care and adoption, I dreamt of creating a big eclectic family of my own that way.  I also had plans to become a teacher as I loved being around and working with children. Children weren’t the issue.  The process of having them was.  At an early age, I learned that my mother’s experience with trying to have children was a long and painful one, including multiple miscarriages and even losing a child 2 weeks after birth. With every pregnancy she endured great physical and emotional pain including pre and post pregnancy, not to mention the grief and disappointment of losing her babies. And as I grew older and my physiological patterns seem to already mimic my mother’s, I knew that I didn’t want to put myself through something similar. I began to believe that my body wasn’t meant for pregnancy and childbirth and motherhood would just have to come another way, if at all. And as I entered my 30s and the prospect of marriage was becoming later and later than I had hoped, I started to resign myself to being ok living life without ever having my own children. There were worse things in life and I could still be perfectly happy being an auntie or a figurative mother to other people’s children.  Then I met Tai soon after and when we started talking about our future together, I was relieved to know that not only did he love children and was passionate about foster care and adoption,  but that he also didn’t want to start a family based on the pressures of societal timelines and expectations…we would do it when we felt ready to do so. Especially since we had both gone through a lot of transitions within the entire timeline of our relationship, we wanted some time to build roots and feel grounded after all the constant changes we had just been through.  And if our life took a different path of not having children of our own, that was ok too. Match made in heaven! So once we got married, though we were considerably “older” than most people just entering married life, we wanted to take a few years building roots in our new married life before taking steps to add to our family…we would trust God with the rest.

Fast forward back to Sept 2015, just shy of our 3 year anniversary, and I’m sitting up in my bed in the middle of the night still shaken up by this very realistic dream of feeling a baby roll around and kick in my belly.  What was this dream and why was I having it NOW?  I was approaching my late 30’s and was pretty sure that ship had sailed for me. Maybe it was figurative?  Maybe it was the spicy food I ate that day?  I could just ignore it and go back to sleep….But I couldn’t shake the feeling, that familiar feeling that maybe God had something to do with it and that I needed to listen.  It wouldn’t be the first time God used a dream to speak to me. So I started to pray, “God, if it’s you speaking, I’m here listening” and then waited.  After what felt like a few minutes, I suddenly felt my heart get warm and a deep peace filled me…as I listened intently, I heard this inner voice whisper to me, “Neah I love you. Do you trust me?”  I do Lord.  “Then why are you afraid?”  What do you mean, Lord?  “Neah, do you trust me?”  I said yes, but more carefully this time.  “Then why won’t you trust me with your deepest desires?”

As I sat there in silence pondering on the question, wondering what desire he was talking about, what happened next felt like a cork was being removed from somewhere deep within my heart. The place where I had become an expert at placing the most vulnerable of my emotions buried deep and bottled up, was now resurfacing….and before I knew it, tears one by one starting rolling down my face as I finally mustered enough courage to utter the hidden fear and desire I thought I had locked away long ago….”I want to be a mom.  I want to have my own children. And though I’m deathly afraid to even admit it, I want to experience the miracle of carrying my own child. I’m terrified of everything that might entail. But help me to trust you despite my fears.”  And though I felt like I had jumped off a cliff declaring those words out loud, I felt peace knowing God also desired this for me and would be with me.  So as a step of faith, I picked up my cell phone by my nightstand, opened up the memo app, and began to write a letter to my future child.

….So this is your future mommy saying that I hope you will become reality soon, that I’m finally ready to meet you and to have the opportunity to be the best mommy I can be for you. I am commiting to trust in our loving and faithful God to bring you to us and to prepare us for you. I’m really scared of what may or may not happen. But I know our God already knows you, has dreamt of you before I have, and loves you far more that I or Tai ever will…just as he does for us. And since He’s the one who’s awakened my heart to you…starting tonight I will do my best to prepare my body, soul, and mind for when He chooses to give you to us. I love you.  

A few hours later that morning, I shared with Tai what had happened including the letter I had wrote to our future child.  Though he was supportive, he of course needed time to process everything that had just happened to be on the same page with me.  After a few months of discerning and praying together, he experienced his own awakening to his desires of wanting to be a father and was now ready more than ever to start that journey together.  We were both on the same page again.  We both felt ready to explore all avenues regardless of the uncertainties that laid ahead and we would take one step at a time trusting God with every step.

Because Tai and I had always wanted to adopt, that was the first place we looked, especially since trying to get pregnant might take some time. Adopting from Korea had been on our hearts, so we began doing some research as well as have multiple conversations with friends who had already adopted internationally, including Korea.  That’s when a well experienced mom of 5 korean adoptees advised us that if we had any thoughts on getting pregnant in the next 2-3 years during the adoptions process, we should try getting pregnant first. For those who have gone through international adoption already know that even if you get pregnant unintentionally during the adoption process, the whole entire thing gets annulled.  Yikes. And ever since that dream in September, we knew that door wasn’t closed anymore.  So since I was heading into my late 30’s and Tai into his 40’s, we heeded the advice and decided to take a detour to try and spend our energy and focus on getting pregnant first.

You know that phrase, “when it rains, it pours?”  Well, it’s very appropriate for what would come next in our story.

To be continued…