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Loved and Not Alone (pt. 2)

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporation

Thank you, one thousand times over, to everyone who reached out to me after I wrote my last blog post (and the prequel to this little diddy– so go back and read it before you start on this one). Your words of hope and solidarity were so overwhelming for me that I wish now I had posted it sooner rather than held back in fear and heartache.

I promised you my story wasn’t over last time; there was a lot that got me to the point I could post about my fertility issues and I intend to keep my promise and share with you my more recent story.

After August I still struggled off and on with the general feelings of discontentment wrapped around my dysfunctional body but it began to die down significantly as I opened up to more and more people about my struggle which meant more and more people were praying for Patrick and me on this issue. But I think the number one thing that helped me begin to overcome my negative self talk was leading the student ministry at Central Christian Church‘s Glendale campus.

The Glendale campus is a LOT different demographically and culturally to the other four Central campuses located in the East Valley of the Phoenix Metro area. Glendale is in the West Valley– which, even if you aren’t from Phoenix, you know that there is always a sort of “rivalry” of lifestyle and demographic between east and west anything. The greater demographic of the area the campus is located in is middle to lower-middle class, blue collar workers, and Hispanic– again, a generalization of the area and not indicative of the entire population. I grew up East Valley, served/worked in East Valley youth programs, and I began to awe at a few of the girls that have attended our junior high program in Glendale.

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Courtesy of Central Christian Church Creative Arts Department

Working at the Glendale campus was my first ever exposure to working with students who were living in a group home situation. They have always been girls, and each girl I encountered taught me something new about resilience and faith and beauty that I don’t believe I could have learned on my own. Some of their stories were so so tragic, some were filled with hope and longing, and some stories I never heard but I know were creating deep pain in their hearts and souls– but I would still see them every Sunday, smiles on their faces (usually) and new stories to share with me.

I never knew my heart could open so wide.

It was my interactions with them that really got me over the hump. I knew that if I couldn’t have a child of my own that I wanted to love ones like that– ones that, of no fault of their own, had been cast aside or experiencing pain and loss. I thought that, if I couldn’t have a child of my own, I could adopt/foster a young person who just needed someone to believe in them and love them.

Patrick and I are friends with a couple who have been doing this for years– their niche is babies with special needs– and it has been such a blessing to watch the two of them with every child that comes into their home. They adopted one of the little angels not too long ago and are just the cutest little family you ever did see. But it isn’t always that rosy; two of the kids, brothers, they had in their home for quite some time and were in the process of adopting when suddenly they were taken from them with little warning and placed with family that had crawled out of the woodwork. Patrick and I had watched how it devastated our couple friend and we wondered if that was ever something we could deal with (this was all prior to my even knowing about my fertility issues).

My relationship with the young ladies from the group home changed that for me but Patrick was still fearful of that pain.

While we were talking about what it might look like to start fostering, we were also talking about going to a fertility doctor recommended by my new GYN. We had decided that once we got back from my brother’s birthday trip that I would schedule an appointment and see what our options were.

I hadn’t cycled in awhile (which isn’t weird, remember) and my brother was turning 21 on this trip so, just to be safe, I took a pregnancy test– you know, in case by some MIRACLE, God had decided to open up my previously dusty and difficult womb– fully expecting a “Not Pregnant” to appear on the screen.

Not even the obligatory 2 minutes later…

“Pregnant”

SAY WHAT?!

So long story short, I discovered God had finally deemed me ready to have a child of my own on a trip, to Las Vegas, to celebrate my brother’s 21st birthday. Ain’t that somethin’?

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Courtesy of Central Christian Church Creative Arts Department

As of today, Mother’s Day, I am 13 weeks along. This time last year, Patrick was celebrating mother’s day for me even though I didn’t think I could ever be one and now here I sit today, 6 months away from being one.

I know this isn’t the case for everyone struggling with infertility, but for me–

It felt like God was waiting for me to realize that even if I couldn’t be the mother of my own flesh and blood I could be the mother of someone else’s flesh and blood. I still fully intend to follow up on that with God and foster/adopt a preteen/teen some day. I wasn’t given that call for no reason, I know that. I want them to feel loved and not alone as I have come to feel over the past 7 months.

Thank you EVERYONE who has walked with us through this very difficult journey– you all know who you are– and we are so blessed to call you our friends and family. Welcome to my mess.

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How to Fall in Love with Anyone

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Our “first” photo together as a couple… can’t see me? My reflection is in the bean… it’s a fun game of “Where’s Waldo”. Early on in our relationship I was afraid to ask him to take photos with me in case it would be awkward… Sometimes I couldn’t even take pictures of him. I was such a weirdo; I’m amazed he stuck around 😉

Link diving – Verb

The act of clicking further and further from your original subject of research. Commonly related to the popular website Wikipedia.com (UrbanDictionary.com)

Link diving is dangerous.

It is dangerous for many reasons I won’t get into but the main reason it is dangerous is because procrastinators, like myself, don’t know when to Shut. It. Down. I could spend hours link diving away from my original purpose only to find myself on BuzzFeed (the death of all procrastinating link divers everywhere) looing at a list of “11 Reasons Why Things Are the Color They Are” (which is highly informative, you should definitely check it out:-)).

The point is… My name is Valerie, and I am a link diver (this is where you say ‘Hi Valerie’ and we move on).

So when I was sifting through my WordPress Reader for new posts and came across the latest from the Daily Post titled “The Socratic Method“; I was intrigued and had to dive a little deeper. Needless to say, I didn’t make it all the way through the post (I have since gone back and read through it and if you are looking for a little writing inspiration it is definitely worth the read) because the first two paragraphs touched on a study and an article about 36 questions to accelerate intimacy between two strangers.

Interest piqued yet? In the original study, two of the participants, completely unknown to each other prior to the experience, ended up married later on in life. Crazy, right?! Who wouldn’t want to link dive away to check that out?

So I ventured to the New York Times article, “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This“, and read Mandy’s very interesting story. I want you to read it too and if you think you are up for the challenge here is the link to the 36 Questions that could quite possibly change your life. (I recommend using their app to go through the questions as it makes the process much easier and they kind of explain how it all works in more descriptive terms).

Her article struck me personally because my dearest hubby, Patrick, has a very practical view of love. It was something we talked about often when we were dating. He isn’t romantic in the sense that he sweeps me off to faraway places and brings me flowers and little gifts daily; his romantic is bringing in the groceries, doing the dishes, walking the dogs, helping with the laundry. This article reminded me of him and how he CHOOSES to love me everyday rather rely on fleeting FEELINGS and EMOTIONS to rest his love. This article touches on walking, not falling, into love and I think, unfortunately, most young people today want the head-over-heels when in reality… the practical is so much better and so much more attainable. So read the article and see what I saw:

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To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This 

By Mandy Len Catron, New York Times, January 9, 2015

More than 20 years ago, the psychologist Arthur Aron succeeded in making two strangers fall in love in his laboratory. Last summer, I applied his technique in my own life, which is how I found myself standing on a bridge at midnight, staring into a man’s eyes for exactly four minutes.

Let me explain. Earlier in the evening, that man had said: “I suspect, given a few commonalities, you could fall in love with anyone. If so, how do you choose someone?”

He was a university acquaintance I occasionally ran into at the climbing gym and had thought, “What if?” I had gotten a glimpse into his days on Instagram. But this was the first time we had hung out one-on-one.

“Actually, psychologists have tried making people fall in love,” I said, remembering Dr. Aron’s study. “It’s fascinating. I’ve always wanted to try it.”

I first read about the study when I was in the midst of a breakup. Each time I thought of leaving, my heart overruled my brain. I felt stuck. So, like a good academic, I turned to science, hoping there was a way to love smarter.

I explained the study to my university acquaintance. A heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The most tantalizing detail: Six months later, two participants were married. They invited the entire lab to the ceremony.

“Let’s try it,” he said.

Let me acknowledge the ways our experiment already fails to line up with the study. First, we were in a bar, not a lab. Second, we weren’t strangers. Not only that, but I see now that one neither suggests nor agrees to try an experiment designed to create romantic love if one isn’t open to this happening.

I Googled Dr. Aron’s questions; there are 36. We spent the next two hours passing my iPhone across the table, alternately posing each question.

They began innocuously: “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” And “When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?”

But they quickly became probing.

In response to the prompt, “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common,” he looked at me and said, “I think we’re both interested in each other.”

I grinned and gulped my beer as he listed two more commonalities I then promptly forgot. We exchanged stories about the last time we each cried, and confessed the one thing we’d like to ask a fortuneteller. We explained our relationships with our mothers.

The questions reminded me of the infamous boiling frog experiment in which the frog doesn’t feel the water getting hotter until it’s too late. With us, because the level of vulnerability increased gradually, I didn’t notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there, a process that can typically take weeks or months.

I liked learning about myself through my answers, but I liked learning things about him even more. The bar, which was empty when we arrived, had filled up by the time we paused for a bathroom break.

I sat alone at our table, aware of my surroundings for the first time in an hour, and wondered if anyone had been listening to our conversation. If they had, I hadn’t noticed. And I didn’t notice as the crowd thinned and the night got late.

We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative. Ours was the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, staying up all night with a new friend, exchanging the details of our short lives. At 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly. But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances.

The moments I found most uncomfortable were not when I had to make confessions about myself, but had to venture opinions about my partner. For example: “Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner, a total of five items” (Question 22), and “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things you might not say to someone you’ve just met” (Question 28).

Much of Dr. Aron’s research focuses on creating interpersonal closeness. In particular, several studies investigate the ways we incorporate others into our sense of self. It’s easy to see how the questions encourage what they call “self-expansion.” Saying things like, “I like your voice, your taste in beer, the way all your friends seem to admire you,” makes certain positive qualities belonging to one person explicitly valuable to the other.

It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you. I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.

We finished at midnight, taking far longer than the 90 minutes for the original study. Looking around the bar, I felt as if I had just woken up. “That wasn’t so bad,” I said. “Definitely less uncomfortable than the staring into each other’s eyes part would be.”

He hesitated and asked. “Do you think we should do that, too?”

“Here?” I looked around the bar. It seemed too weird, too public.

“We could stand on the bridge,” he said, turning toward the window.

The night was warm and I was wide-awake. We walked to the highest point, then turned to face each other. I fumbled with my phone as I set the timer.

“O.K.,” I said, inhaling sharply.

“O.K.,” he said, smiling.

I’ve skied steep slopes and hung from a rock face by a short length of rope, but staring into someone’s eyes for four silent minutes was one of the more thrilling and terrifying experiences of my life. I spent the first couple of minutes just trying to breathe properly. There was a lot of nervous smiling until, eventually, we settled in.

I know the eyes are the windows to the soul or whatever, but the real crux of the moment was not just that I was really seeing someone, but that I was seeing someone really seeing me. Once I embraced the terror of this realization and gave it time to subside, I arrived somewhere unexpected.

I felt brave, and in a state of wonder. Part of that wonder was at my own vulnerability and part was the weird kind of wonder you get from saying a word over and over until it loses its meaning and becomes what it actually is: an assemblage of sounds.

So it was with the eye, which is not a window to anything but rather a clump of very useful cells. The sentiment associated with the eye fell away and I was struck by its astounding biological reality: the spherical nature of the eyeball, the visible musculature of the iris and the smooth wet glass of the cornea. It was strange and exquisite.

When the timer buzzed, I was surprised — and a little relieved. But I also felt a sense of loss. Already I was beginning to see our evening through the surreal and unreliable lens of retrospect.

Most of us think about love as something that happens to us. We fall. We get crushed.

But what I like about this study is how it assumes that love is an action. It assumes that what matters to my partner matters to me because we have at least three things in common, because we have close relationships with our mothers, and because he let me look at him.

I wondered what would come of our interaction. If nothing else, I thought it would make a good story. But I see now that the story isn’t about us; it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.

It’s true you can’t choose who loves you, although I’ve spent years hoping otherwise, and you can’t create romantic feelings based on convenience alone. Science tells us biology matters; our pheromones and hormones do a lot of work behind the scenes.

But despite all this, I’ve begun to think love is a more pliable thing than we make it out to be. Arthur Aron’s study taught me that it’s possible — simple, even — to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive.

You’re probably wondering if he and I fell in love. Well, we did. Although it’s hard to credit the study entirely (it may have happened anyway), the study did give us a way into a relationship that feels deliberate. We spent weeks in the intimate space we created that night, waiting to see what it could become.

Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.

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A Tale of Two Woes

girls worship at camp 2014

This was my small group of freshmen girls I lead at camp last summer.

I began writing this in October and am only just now posting it. I hope it sparks something in you like it did in me.

I work and serve at Central Christian Church in Arizona, specifically in the Student Ministry. I’d like to point out that my story is just that: my story, my opinions, my flare. What you read next in no way reflects my awesome church or all the awesome people who work and attend here. So now that is out of the way I can tell you my tale of woe…

I love students. I love mentoring the young minds and encouraging and challenging them towards a greater potential. I love that, occasionally, they also do the same for me– a symbiotic relationship, if you will. But in the very same moment it can be the most taxing, the most frustrating, and the most disheartening thing I have ever invested myself in. There are tons of quotes from respected people saying that the best things in life are often the most difficult things in life as well– which is so true, but saying that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

I recently have had two separate freshmen ladies that I know and love approach me and tell me woeful stories about life taking turns and directions that they were not prepared for. Both involved them losing some part of their innocence and feeling lost and confused about where to go from there. They were clearly in a place of deep pain as the related their tales to me with tears rolling down their cheeks. I do not posses the gift of mercy by any means, but watching these two girls suffer caused me to ache inside. While part of their pain was brought on by themselves, which they were keenly aware of, the fact that this was something they had to deal with at all broke my heart.

So what do we do, as caring leaders/adults in the lives of these teens, when we have a fourteen year old telling us something horrible, wrapped in pain, and earnestly staring you down to receive comforting words of guidance and assurances that everything will be okay? What do we do when the spotlight hits us and they expect us to speak but we have no words to say?

In the case of these two lovelies, I prayed hard and fast that the Lord would remove my brain and replace it with his knowledge and wisdom so that hopefully whatever would come out of my mouth would be his words, not mine, because I was ill prepared to help these girls.

While I know my responses were not perfect, I also know that I conveyed to them both that I cared for them and I was there for them whenever they needed someone. I have made my own mistakes and have been haunted by my own sins and the key to being able to empathize with them was to remember that I had been there– in some ways I was still was (this blog is not called the Messy Phoenix for no reason). Was it my place to judge them? No, absolutely not. Was it my place to to chastise them and tell them what they did was wrong? No, absolutely not. Their own spirit had convicted them and they felt awful enough without me adding fuel to that fire.

They both hated themselves in different ways– I was not going to be someone else they thought they may have disappointed. Was I disappointed? Yes, I won’t lie, but does that mean I did not love them and want them to rebound and to heal? No!

The book of James in the New Testament of the Bible is one of my absolute favorites. While not technically considered a Book of Wisdom, like Proverbs or Job, I believe it imparts so much to us; I think this book is the slap in the face most Christians need in their life:

11 Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters.[d] If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. 12 God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12 NLT (BibleGateway.com)

These verses make me think of Jesus’ teaching in the Book of Luke, chapter 6, when he speaks to a large number of followers telling them not to be a hypocrite; if there is some sin in their own life it is not their place to be pointing out the sin of another. We are, ALL OF US, in this thing together. No matter our stage of life, no matter our experiences, we all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

The beauty part is, in our brokenness, we have support:

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer[a] is overcome by some sin, you who are godly[b] should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

Galatians 6:1-3 NLT (BibleGateway.com)

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, tells us we are to share each other’s burdens! Yeah! And if you are believing yourself to be too good for that, check it again because Paul tells you to get over yourself (clearly I am paraphrasing here). Jesus even tells a parable in Luke 18 that condemns the Pharisee for believing himself to be better than the tax collector.

Friends, Listen!

Just like I had to do with these two teenage girls, we need to put ourselves aside; we need to find it within ourselves to lift each other up instead of tearing each other down. Does this mean we condone bad things done? No, absolutely not; that thinking does not reflect Jesus’ heart either. What we do is understand that, heck, we’ve been there too. I may have not experienced the same fall from grace that these girls did, and it may be I have, but that does not mean I cannot look at them and say, “You are beautiful, you are loved, and not just by God but also by me, and I’m telling you we can fight through this together. Let’s get back on track TOGETHER.”

I’m not sure this is the direction I initially meant for this post to go but I do know God spoke it through me for a reason and I hope you have been challenged or given hope by it today.

I’d love to hear from you! When have you been confronted with a similar situation and how did you handle it?