Sunday, April 29, 2012

When She Touches Me, Amazing Things Happen

When she touches me, amazing things happen.

Got your attention, I suppose.
 In preparation for my marriage to Tony a few years ago, we each read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Great, accurate concepts about communication; if you have relationships at all (which should be just about everybody, right?), you should read this book - for yourself, and for those you care about. Anyway, my primary love language is actually a dead on tie between two: Words of Affirmation (I am SUCH a words girl!) and Physical Touch.

I'm well-balanced.

Seriously, I've learned from this book; I'm more self-aware, and it helps me communicate with others and REALLY helps my husband and others communicate with me.

In the past year or so, I've been on the receiving end of exhortations to "take care of myself" from various sources. Most of them know me well enough to give good advice. I've explored a few methods of self-care, most of which seem - alright, to be honest, all of which - fairly self-indulgent to me.

But since I'm a words girl and a physical touch girl, I began to consider how this knowledge might help me stay emotionally and spiritually healthy.

Words are words. Tell me something good, as Chaka Khan said so poignantly. That's pretty easy.

As for physical touch, let's get something out of the way first: Physical Touch is not necessarily the same thing as Sexual Touch. Obviously, there can be a connection - but the love language part of it clearly delineates a difference.

Touch. To me, touch communicates with great power. It is affirming, connecting, healing. I'm a touchy person - it's how I say, "I love you" most often to my kids, to my husband, with a touch or a squeeze or a pat or a hug. One of my dearest, fondest memories of my grandmother -  who was built the same way - I feel.  She scratched my back on a long car ride, or kept her hand on my leg while we sat on the porch talking. I knew she loved me. I felt it. I've never forgotten it.

So, back to the touching thing. I know this woman, Marian.

Marian is a massage therapist.

Every three or four weeks, I spend an hour with Marian.

And when she touches me, amazing things happen.

Marian works a a local chain that is convenient to my house. She's been to my church a few times; I've met significant others in her life, so there's an interesting sort of trust and rapport. We're not really friends, but we're more than acquaintances, and that makes a difference. To me, anyway.

So, now to the massage thing: because I trust Marian, because I know that she places her hands on my forehead before she begins her work and prays for me, because I believe that this is good for me, I have come to believe a monthly massage as something other than indulgence. It once seemed like something only bored, rich ladies would do. Because I am far from bored OR rich, I've come to see a different purpose.

Massage therapy heals me. It restores me. In the context of my love language, I know it affirms me. And, interestingly enough, something more powerful has begun to play out. In a world where body image is a challenge for many of us, women in particular, massage therapy has given me a place to connect with my physical self in a way that is completely and totally non-sexual. There's no evaluation of my weight or shape or height or skin tone; it's my body, as it is, being worked towards healing, much like a doctor would do. I feel better about myself, because I have a chance to experience my body in a context that feels a whole lot more like what God intended than the daily struggle with how I look and whether or not I'm acceptable.

I didn't expect this, and I certainly didn't start out feeling this way. It was awkward, because I didn't really know how it would be, to be touched and pushed and prodded and rubbed. But what I experience now is almost surreal and sort of existential: I just am. I am there, in my body, and the touch affirms me, and I am better for it.

When she touches me, amazing things happen. 

Through massage therapy, I've learned more about myself, about my health, about my need to be still. I've learned to accept myself. It's been very healing. It is spiritual, prayerful. It brings clarity and peace. Sometimes it still feels self-indulgent, but if I forfeit a night out or a dinner with my husband, it fits our budget. And I think it's an investment worth making.

I'm better for it.

What about you? Massage - yes or no? Good or icky?

BTW - special shout out to Lindsay Durrenburger, who writes wonderfully over at Fueled By Diet Coke. Her blog has caused me to think much more carefully about self-care and body image and all sorts of things that matter. One of the reasons I'm so okay with massage therapy is because of Lindsay. Even though I don't know if she thinks massage is cool or icky. Whatever. That's what friends are for, right?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hear. See. Notice. Eric Johnson.

"The musical style of Eric Johnson...features electric rock instrumentation, blues influences, great musicianship, mild rhythmic syncopation and demanding instrumental part writing."

That's how Pandora describes the music currently filling my ears (and those of any patrons of our music store, since I'm minding the counter this evening. And blogging. It's a slow night...)

Last weekend I saw Eric Johnson play live at the Dallas Guitar Show. It was the third or fourth time I've seen him in concert; the first being way back in the early 80's at Fat Dawg's in Lubbock, Texas, when he was just a young - and incredibly talented -  musical brat with a bad mullet.

Then again, so was I. A musician with a mullet, that is. Not even in the same league with the talent level. But oh, yes; I had me a mullet.

We sat in a small hall Saturday afternoon and watched Eric Johnson play an hour's worth of Jimi Hendrix tunes with two other exquisite musicians who lived and breathed every nuance with him.

Watch his hands, the fluidity of his phrasing, the precision of every accent. Close your eyes and feel the simmering purity of his tone. Follow the arc of the melody he shapes, beyond just a formatted verse/verse/chorus/verse/bridge/chorus line.

It's otherworldly. It's just so much more.

But here's the thing: I've watched my boys master "Cliffs of Dover" on Guitar Hero. I've listened to "Bristol Shore" and made note of the solos. I can crank it up loud and experience the precise execution of his craft with time to soak it all in.

And yet, I don't. Hardly ever. Quite honestly, I'm not much interested in listening to his recordings. I don't own any of his cds.

But I'd drive three hours to see him twice a week if it was possible.

It's the experience. Hearing the music as I watch his fingers fly across the frets, seeing his lithe body twist and snap as he punches the beat, noticing the nod he offers to his band mates when he's winding up the tune. Hearing. Seeing. Noticing.

It's not a far stretch to see how this applies to life; to my family, to the community I find in my church, the working relationships at my job and the connection I feel in my own musical pursuits.




It's how I want to live, with just a bit more intentionality and a lot more awareness. It's what I want to create, how I want to engage. In this day of instant digital memories and mp3s you can create in your spare bedroom in 30 minutes, I want to be part of something otherworldly. Whether part of the creation process or just engaged in the experience, I want to be part of something that is more.

Do you? I mean, really; how and when does this come to you? What is the more that strikes your heart and stirs your soul?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Great Flood Of 2012

So much has transpired - primarily a trip to Texas, with fun photos, a new hairdo, insults, guitars and a fair measure of nostalgia and perspective.

However, at the moment, none of that matters. Rather than write something clever, I'll just copy and paste the content of an email I sent to my coworkers this morning: 

Last night, due to operator error and an old washing machine that is a little finicky, we managed to flood the basement. While we happily enjoyed our chicken sandwiches and salads at PCC night at Chick fila, we emptied the well and filled the basement. Two hours of running water makes for a nice little swimming pool.   
O joy. 
We rescued the instruments (there were about 20 guitars / banjos / etc.) and none were the worse for wear, thankfully (the majority of them were repair jobs. Ouch.) We managed to haul everything outside or upstairs and suck most of the water out of the carpet and the corners of the basement. Tony fixed the washer. He rewired the pump to get our second well functioning.  
Tony had about half a century's worth of papers, books, electronic devices, ancient guitar effect pedals, computer keyboards, computers, etc. We drug everything outside to dry. Now we have to begin the herculean task of sorting and repacking. It was a job that we knew we needed to do sometime; I guess this is as good a time as any.  
I went to Walmart sometime after midnight to get plastic storage containers. People who shop at 1AM are interesting folks.  
We'd appreciate your prayers. Lots of other stuff going on today, as Daniel goes to court to get his "real" license" and I got volunteered to play for the school musical rehearsal this afternoon. Oh, and there are receipts to turn in for expenses and all the various and other sundry things that go with work. I really need to take a shower. Tony has three appointments this morning and a store to run.  
But hey: God is good, all the time. When I am overwhelmed, I have a great opportunity to sense his presence. Pray for us in that regard today.  
It's going to be a long day of work. We're already tired. But: 
1) it's not raining
2) nobody died
3) nothing is ruined that can't be replaced
4) we have running water
5) Tony is a mechanical genius.  
It's not so bad. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Let's Be Kind To One Another

The confessional and personal nature of my last post meant that the comments were more important than usual to me. Each and every word of encouragement, prayer, song snippet or kindness held great meaning for me. I thank you for your comments.

But it is those words that you have not seen that are hitting my heart with power. And conviction. And pain. Look, here; read a sampling of what has come to me via private messages or emails:

"Mental illness is a subject I'm very sensitive to, and I have spent a lot of time cringing and biting my tongue...You come to expect that your position isn't going to be understood or welcomed, so you keep your mouth shut."

"...I know all too well the devastating effects that mental illness forces upon families...I grew up ashamed of my mother and did whatever I could, at any cost, to keep people outside the confines of our four walls from discovering what really went on behind closed doors...I continue to wrestle with the demon of guilt...because I was a terrible daughter to her. I was hateful, impatient, and angry with her most of the time. I mourn now over a lost relationship...If only I had the support as a child that walked me through the mood swings, the paranoia, the mania followed by the can't-get-out-of-bed-for-days depression...if only."

"I just want to say that it did my heart good to read your words...I wish my mother had reacted that way years ago. The fact that she didn't and to this day still says "it's in my head" is irreversible damage that she'll never be able to undo." 

"My youngest daughter is also suffering with a mental illness...She is filled with anger and hatred and much of it is directed towards me."

"...our son also is bipolar. I have told almost no one...I understand the pain, the fear, the heartache, the confusion, even the shame and the guilt...And I understand the feelings of helplessness. Utter, gut wrenching helplessness."

"I read your blog on mental illness with great pain.  My eldest daughter...The disease has affected her marriage, her relationship with her daughters, her friendships and our relationship...I worry.  I feel bad.  I feel responsible."

And here is my further confession: most of these folks are known to me in real life. I have touched their hands, had face-to-face conversations with them. They are my friends.

And in most cases, I didn't know. 

Before we moved into this new place, I never thought much about bipolar disease. I was ignorant. It didn't factor into my assessment of others, my relationships, my expectations, my empathy.

But now I know.

And it makes a difference.

There's a lot of pain out there. Let's be kind to one another.

Thank you for all of your responses. Your encouragement means the world to me.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Which The Truth Comes Out

I’m house cleaning. Music pours through the empty halls and off the walls as I wait for three of my five kids to make the 45-minute trip from their dad’s house back home. I’m in the kitchen, and I can hear the shuffle of the melodies from the living room.

Eminem - Tenth Avenue North - Susan Graham - Michael Roe - U2 - Willie Nelson - A.R. Rahman - Andrew Bird - Dave Matthews - Jay Z - Lecrae - Hillsong - Sting -

I’m unsure about so many things these days, including what kind of music I want. So I put it on shuffle. It works brilliantly. There's a little bit of everything - a LOT of everything!

I think, to myself, “This’s like I’m schizophrenic or something...” and I imagine me saying that to someone, because I do that, sometimes, when I’ve spent a few too many hours alone.

And I pull up short in that moment. It's that word, schizophrenia. Because I have learned, recently, that comparing the challenges of a mental illness like schizophrenia to the razzle-dazzle of an eclectic music collection meets a wide range of criteria for wrong.

There is no comparison. Bad analogy.

I’m not schizophrenic. I just have diverse taste in music. I don’t have a mental illness.

But my daughter does.


There it is. I said it. The truth is out.

And oh, the roaring rush of wind that blows through mind as I even type those is loud and it is fast and it blows where it will. And I can’t control it.

So I am giving up control. I have decided (with her permission) to let it go.

It seems, at times, that we live in two separate worlds. It’s not the biggest secret; there are many who will read these words and acknowledge what was confided months ago. Coming out is no surprise to all.

But we have lived in this other place, where we read blogs about bipolar and pass around a book called Loving Someone Who Is Bipolar and we talk about and pray for friends who are exhibiting symptoms that we recognize so well. We talk about our extended family, and those who have gone before, some undiagnosed, and what cousins are struggling still. We see the scarred branches of our particular family tree and have learned to find new names for what we once simply called moody. Or over the top. Or intense. Or hyper.

And we live in this place where we are all just a bit sensitive to the mania and the depression and the way the tendrils of either one can wrap around our legs and throw us on our collective asses.

Bipolar disease has changed our family dramatically, because we live here, now.

Sarah was diagnosed just a few weeks after her 19th birthday. Calling it what it was - naming this thing that was bouncing off the walls and scratching itself bloody on our backsides - led to a decision (hers, mostly) to walk into St. Mary’s psych ward here in Richmond. Reliving those moments as I watched my child - my baby girl! my daughter! my beautiful child! - walk through doors locked to keep me out as much as to keep her in brings hot, tense tears even now.

Of all the things that life has brought; of the many mistakes I have made, the pain I have caused, the injuries I have inflicted, the wounds I have felt, nothing - absolutely nothing - compares of the utter agony of a suffering child.

My suffering child.

And me, rendered completely incapable of helping her. In fact, quite the opposite, as therapy and hot dialogue reveal that the initial triggers all connect to me, somehow. Those tight, tense strings of maternal love and affection can also carry deadly, destructive disease.

I am her mother. I bring healing, and I bring pain.

There is a special place for this sort of motherhood. I’ve yet to determine any analogy, any comparison. I know this: that there is a depth to my soul untouched and likely unreachable by anything but the fiery coals that sear this tainted love, the kind that rages within the boundaries of mania and weeps with the despair of depression. Only this particular, unforgettable fire burns this deep. None other that I have felt.

I love my daughter. She is bipolar. And we will never be the same.


Sarah is incredibly wise and proactive and continues to embrace - even to own her life, in a full and vibrant way. The challenges of living with mental illness are greater for her, the affected individual, than any of the rest of us; but Sarah has a unique, God-given ability to consider others around her. Perhaps it’s because she is the eldest, the “big sister”. Years of looking out for everybody else created habits and patterns of bold love and heartfelt kindness. It's a beautiful thing.

Today, she sent a note to me and to her sisters, quoting a book she is reading. It was the trigger to finally tug these words out from beyond the walls of our house and into the light.

So, now you know. And I wonder if some of you read this post and were surprised.

It's everywhere. There are people and families all around us who live with bipolar and other mental illness. The spectrum of treatment and life engagement varies wildly. You never know.

In opening the door to our situation, we hope to offer an invitation toward healing for other families who are living with bipolar disease or other mental illness. And we want to help eliminate the stigma. Everyone around you is carrying some sort of burden. Some of them struggle with mental illness. Don’t forget that.

Here’s the quote Sarah sent us, how she is helping her siblings walk this road:

The effects of mental illness on brothers and sisters
Mental illness can lead to a variety of emotional effects for brothers and sisters of the affected person. For example, they may feel:
Confusion about their sibling’s changed behaviour.
Embarrassment about being in the affected person’s company.
Jealous of their parent’s attention.
Resentment about not being like their peers.
Fear of developing the mental illness.
What brothers and sisters can and can’t do
What you can do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can:
Talk honestly about your feelings and encourage others in the family to do the same.
Be active in improving mental health services - for example, through local mental health support groups.
Avoid making the ill person the axis around which the family revolves.
Maintain your focus on living and enjoying your own life.
What you can’t do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can’t:
Be totally responsible for their welfare.
Make your sibling behave in a certain way - for example, force them to take their medication.
Solve all their problems or feel you ought to.
Lessen the impact of the illness by pretending that it is not there.

And this is the back story, then, to the tremendous emotion behind that post I wrote. You see, leaving home and taking this step towards her future was something that she wasn't sure she'd ever really be able to do. That's why we cried; that's why we rejoice.

You never know.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Holiness Swaddled In The Simple: Chasing Francis

This past October I attended the STORY conference in Chicago. It was a hipster scene.

I felt a bit out of place.

But what I experienced there stuck with me at a primal level. It was more than a standard conference experience, partly due to the diversity of presenters and activities.There was a laser-like focus on the purpose of the gathering. STORY was about story, and every part of the two-day schedule was wrapped around the idea that story is paramount. It was the best investment of time and money in a conference that I’ve made in a decade.

(That’s saying a lot, because we drove a 15-passenger van 15 hours straight through from Virginia to Chicago. That's a serious investment of time.)

(By the way, the STORY2012 website is live. You can go this year. I recommend it.)

Anyway, from All Sons and Daughters’ singing (“I am set free / I am set free / It is for freedom that I am set free...”) to Ann Voskamp reading from her beautiful book to the jaw-dropping wonder of Kyle Cooper showing and telling his title sequence work to John Mark McMillan wailing “God’s Murdered Son”, we had some exquisite experiences.

But none was more powerful than Ian Morgan Cron. He sat on a stool. He told his story. He played a beautiful piece of music over us as a benediction. And I was profoundly moved; internally broken open, raw and vulnerable, connecting somehow with the deepest part of the story he shared.

Honestly, I remember very few of the specifics - no points or paradigm shifts. I simply remember being invited into a sacred, holy place, led by one who gave voice to the commonality of our brokenness.

We walked together into grace and redemption.

Into beauty.

I bought Cron’s memoir, Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me then and there, and devoured it as soon as we returned home. I cried, connected with the sorrow of a life lived like most of us; points of pain, pinnacles of joy, a brilliant grace shining through it all that glows brightest in the looking back. It was a beautiful book, a well-written story, a true thing.

 I made note of this other book that he had written, his first: Chasing Francis, but assumed Francis was some sort of Father Timothy Kavanagh character like Jan Karon’s Mitford books (for which I have a soft spot). I ignored it.

Until this week.

I’ve been following Ian Cron on Twitter. Reminded by his 140-character missives of why I liked his memoir so much, I decided to read Chasing Francis as my Easter benediction; something to soak in as I worked out the muscles and joints of all that Easter celebrations require from church staff.

What immense joy.

The premise did not initially appeal to me - but that was out of my own ignorance. I know very little about early church fathers, including - and perhaps especially - the saints. The Francis in the title refers to St. Francis of Assisi, whom I connect with only because I have sung the words of his prayer in a choral setting:

Lord, make us instruments of Thy peace 
Where there is hatred, let us sow love; 
Where there is injury, pardon; 
Where there is doubt, faith; 
Where there is despair, hope; 
Where there is darkness, light; 
Where there is sadness, joy; 

O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 
to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love. 
For it is in giving that we receive; 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

The novel begins in a deceptively simple fashion; in the first few pages, you might think you’re reading some cheesy “Christian fiction” title designed to extract sanitized conflict and drama from contemporary church culture. It is all that - and more - but the sanitized conflict gives way to demonstrate the dark night of the soul, not just of the main character in the novel, but of the state of modern Christianity. Cron twists and molds a modern-day fable out of the raw humanity of characters who are quite familiar to any of us who live in the 21st century, but in particular to those who have encountered the best and worst of humankind within the contemporary evangelical church.

Early in the book, Cron places a line of dialogue that stopped me cold: 

“All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.” 

Chasing Francis tells the story of life as ministry, a long, ragged cord connecting centuries of pain turned to purpose for those seeking God. Over, around and through religion and church practices, Cron teaches and gently beckons the reader toward a deeper, richer perspective.

Art that is excellent - that honors God and inspires people - sings truth in a dynamic way. A beautiful, true painting; an authentic, transcendent piece of music - these things can be life-changing as you experience them. Some books are that way, too; you read and you are transported to a rare place, a setting apart from reality and yet completely real in your soul.

Cron writes, “True holiness is often swaddled in the simple”. This book is that rare, simple experience for me. Sacred and holy. And highly recommended.

I happen to have an extra copy of Chasing Francis, and I’d love for you to have it. Leave a comment (with an email contact) here on the blog if you’re interested. If there’s more than one, I’ll pull a name out of a hat on Saturday. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Meat To Eat. Or Not.

The second part of my Lenten discipline was a commitment to abstain from meat. This decision led to more of a disruption in my daily routine than expected. I didn’t particularly miss eating steak or chicken. Only once or twice did I find myself thinking, “Man, I’d really like a hamburger...”

The key to this process was the discovery of just how mindless I am when it comes to eating. Mindfulness; that’s the lesson of Lent for me, both in my abstention from Facebook and in this dietary adjustment. I thought, much more carefully, about dinner preparation. It didn’t bother me to prepare pork chops for my family and eat a double helping of vegetables for myself, but it brought an awareness of how meal preparation for me is often simply indulgence of my own appetites. It comes with adulthood, I guess; the privilege of deciding what we’ll eat based on what I feel like cooking or what’s in the sale bin at Food Lion. While abstaining, the what’s-on-sale criteria worked fine, but since I was not eating it, my own appetite mattered less.

Meals on the run became an issue, too. There’s not much you can grab at Chick fila that doesn’t involve meat; chicken, to be precise. Duh. As my fast-food first choice, it became more complicated to zip through the drive-thru and grab something to inhale while on the road. I saved money, I suppose, and realized that my “hunger” was often misleading, since I managed to wait until I got home before eating.

There were two occasions when I broke the fast, and those two opportunities provided the most meaningful experiences during the fast. Again, they emphasized the mindfulness of my choices. The first was a meal offered by a generous and gracious hostess after a long drive. She had prepared dinner for us, in anticipation of our hunger after an eight-hour trip. She was correct; we were hungry. She guided us to the table, already set with bowls full of hot, robust chili and cornbread. We prayed over the meal, and I felt unsettled; how could I tactfully say, “Uh...I’m not eating meat...”?

The choice I made in those moments was to accept the hospitality, realize that a little meat wasn’t going to kill me, and know that observing the spirit of the law made more sense than creating discomfort for our host. It wasn’t at all that I wanted to eat the chili, but that I wanted less to offend our host. So, I ate.

A second experience came, much like the first, but in a different setting. A small, street-side cafe in Savannah has a reputation for terrific Greek wraps. We walked in, obvious first-timers, and the cook busied himself behind the counter. “Here - you try this! Give a sample, tell me what you think!” He smiled, his accent charming us, his eyes sparkling as he handed over two pieces of wax paper dripping with juices. Again, I had to choose; was the offense of declining his open hand worth the penalty of breaking the fast? I accepted, welcomed the tasty chunk of marinated chicken and simmered sausage. And then I ordered the veggie wrap, thick wedges of portabello mushrooms and red peppers and onions and rich, creamy sauce that ran down my chin and all over my hands.

There was no shame in honoring the spirit of discipline by choosing people first. If anything, it brought home the deeper meaning of mindfulness, of carefully and thoughtfully choosing. If I could live with this sort of deliberate decision-making on a regular basis, I believe my life would be better for it. I intend to do so.

People first.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What I Learned When I Left Facebook

I grew up in a church environment with a definite nod towards liturgy. The Methodism of my youth leaned into creeds and responsive readings to tug on that long string of connectivity with the church. I knew there was something that changed about the seasons that was relevant to church, because the banners changed. Silk layers, often sewn by the women of the church, hung high to announce the coming of Pentecost or the arrival of Easter. And Lent. It was common knowledge that Lent required some sort of sacrifice. For as long as I can remember, my mom has “given up chocolate” for the 40 days prior to Easter; this is a difficult sacrifice, as she loves chocolate. As do I.

So it’s always been in my head, this notion that Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of a season of deeper awareness, marked by the discipline of abstinence. Funny, where my faith lives now, in the shadow of a long affair with southern Baptist practice, marked by eight years of post-SBC recovery, the Lenten sacrifice - like so many other things - is, in large part, a reflection of your personal relationship with Jesus. However you find him, whatever suits you.

This year, I observed Ash Wednesday for the first time in many years. At the close of that brief service, I staked my claim to a two-fold Lenten sacrifice. First, I deactivated my Facebook account. Second, I committed to abstain from eating meat. A coworker was ruthless in his comments. “Giving up Facebook - that’s suffering like Jesus? You’re identifying with the sacrifice of a man who was crucified by giving up social media? Really?”

Point taken. In light of the grander sacrifice of Jesus, it was somewhat ridiculous. But there was a broader implication to my decision, and the end result has been thought-provoking. And I am changed.

A disclaimer, of sorts: I’d created a Facebook account for our cat, Louie, prior to Lent. It was a silly thing, really; something creative and borderline ridiculous. There were times, during Lent, when “Louie” commented or posted a status - three distinct events I can remember. One of my daughters came down hard on me for “cheating”. Again, point taken; but the goal of my decision was to muzzle myself. A vow of silence, of sorts, cutting off my tongue like the Ellen Jamesians in John Irving’s The World According To Garp; but not to prove a point to the world but to myself. What would my daily life be like if my comments were restricted to the present, here and now?

 Looking back over the past 40 days, a few things were clear rather quickly. First of all, I was obviously an addict. “Checking Facebook” had become as active a verb in my life as any other, ranked right up there with “going to the bathroom”, “eating lunch”, “brushing my teeth”. Peering into the world of communication and dialogue generated by random status updates, pointless memes and pictures of your kids was a regular part of my daily routine. When I deactivated my account, I felt as though I’d gone to a far-off country, one without the family city square that allowed me to peek through my window and see the goings-on of the community, occasionally sticking my head out to share information, make a comment or shout “hello”.

With no means to see and hear all this activity, and knowing full-well that it continued just fine without me, I was left somewhat bereft. Of what? Well, distraction, to say the least. But more than that. Although the advent of social media and our absorption in it brings out legitimate criticism, there is something real about the interactions there. And I discovered that it's a bit more than simple distraction and clever commentary.

At the risk of sounding incredibly shallow and as if I have no “real” life, I can honestly say that the social media community I participate in via Facebook is, in some very real sense, forming me, shaping my sense of my self and my place in what is a very large, very controlled - and, in some ways, “real” - community. I cannot explain all of it, but I have this sense of what I lived apart from, and what I embraced when I returned, that leads me to believe that more and more of us - primarily myself - are in the midst of relationships and interactions and conversations via Facebook that are deeply meaningful. Comparing the depth and power of social media connections to “real life” has always left the latter obviously lacking. But what I find now, for me, is that there is a new definition of “community”, one that connects a broad swath of People I Used To Know with People I Currently Know and People I’ve Never Met.

And at the center of it all? Me. What matters in this amalgamation of past, present and future tenses is me. Now, that’s about the most narcissistic, self-centered sentence I’ve ever written. But let me explain.  

Community matters. We preach this in our churches, we expound upon it in discussion of nature vs. nurture in families, we long for it as portrayed in sitcoms like Friends and How I Met Your Mother. In is within the context of our communities that we are able to define ourselves. Obviously, there are extremes - we act out our best and worst impulses in the context of “who is watching”. We become codependent or find ourselves driven towards isolation. There are extremes, but at ground level, it matters.

And what I found, as I stepped back into my Facebook community, is that I was able to remember more clearly who I was, where I’ve been and where I’m headed.

Call me shallow. Maybe I am. Remind me that the downfall of our society seems to be a focus on what works for me rather than the greater good. Point out that a sense of entitlement is driving deep wedges in the working wheels of democracy. You would be right about all these things. But I must confess the simple truth: I missed being on Facebook, and it went deeper than distraction. I missed my community. I felt just a little lost without it.

Now, reconnected, I find myself more focused. More engaged with the purpose and goals that propel my daily living. I'm not as addicted; it's not the "checking Facebook" habit that I indulged before. I have learned some temperance. But something is better in me now.

I cannot credit all of that to Facebook, but I can say this: Time away from that connection brought me a greater appreciation for it when I returned. There is some rightness in the relationship, some balance, some awareness that I needed. In whatever way, shape or form it appears, community matters, and this long tail of life connection codified by The Facebook matters to me.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

God isn’t going to magically restore healthy rhythms and boundaries in my life without my cooperation. He never asked me to spread too thin or nurture unhealthy habits or try to live up to some reputation. He didn’t say, “Do more. Do everything.” Those are on me. I did that. That’s my pride and selfishness and ego and ambition rising up, trampling down the beloved things, the necessary things.

Those are the words of Jen Hatmaker.

This is my Good Friday, trampling down the beloved things.

Longing for Sunday. Waiting for restoration.

You Can't Get Away From It

"I know there's some love in it!"

"There's gonna be some love in everything; you can't get away from it."

Overheard in my house tonight, out of the mouths of college girls.

Shannon's home. With her friend Jennifer. And Travis, of course.