Technology Is Not Your Friend

I know this to be true: Technology is not your friend.  We live in a world drunk with high speed internet, glued to Dick Tracy wristwatches, in love with cell phones tracking us down no matter where we go, and with people standing in line for the newest and best electronic gizmos before they go public.  So enamored with the obvious benefits, we have forgotten a simpler life.  One day you will be forcibly reminded that technology is not your friend.

We used to visit theme parks, split up, and meet every hour at a landmark.  We used to give other people our full attention, without surreptitiously checking a buzz or interrupting the conversation to take an important call.  We used to escape from the grind on vacations, but now the ubiquitous grind goes with us to the beach.  Our once simple lives have become glutted with technology.

Let me just say this:  Technology is not your friend.  One day your trusty cell phone will spiral away, taking 3000 of your favorite photos with it.  Your laptop will flash the blue screen of death at the most inopportune time.  You back it all up, you say?  So you willingly broadcast your life into the great void for who knows what nefarious person to examine and target?  Seriously?  Why not just invite the hacker into your living room?  Oh wait, you already did that.

The worst case scenario? Read One Second After.  A simple act of war can take us all back to a humbler, simpler time, where an unprepared people will kill each other without an enemy needing to waste a bullet.  After all, why decimate the land with toxic nuclear waste, when you could just as easily walk in and inhabit the homes, stores, farms and infrastructure already prepared for you?  Only a few would survive this scenario. Take time now to put those pesky electronics in their place.  Trust me.  Electronics are not your friend.

Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?

People, meaning all of us, you and me, defy easy descriptions.  My oldest son is one I would call an extrovert by every definition.  At the age of 12, if granted any wish for his birthday, his first desire would have been a 12-year-old to live in his room with him.  All the time.  Yup.  An extrovert.aaron

Yet ask him, and he thinks of himself as introvert–a person who recharges his batteries in solitude.  His wife and I laughed at that one, because she and I are on the shy side, and he is anything but shy,  yet it got me thinking.

expoNone of us fit into easy little Facebook icons.  I spent Saturday in one of my side gigs, as a vendor and organizer of a local Expo.  It was demanding.  Lots of little glitches demanded patience, flexibility and ingenuity.  I had to use a microphone and get looked at every so often…me, who hates cameras and mirrors.  I was blessed with a steady stream of shoppers I greeted and blessed to the best of my ability.  I got little to no sleep the night before and spent a long day on my feet, shedding my shoes long before the Expo ended.  Yet I felt energized, not drained.  So am I an extrovert?

Before you decide, know this:  I fail at small talk.  I treasure a few close friends.  Without solitude I get cranky.  I hug the walls at large gatherings.  Yup, I’m a conundrum.  I am an extroverted introvert.  Clear as mud, right?  What is important is knowing yourself.  I believe every single person needs some solitude.  The Psalmist said it best: Be still and know that I am God.  When we live at a frenetic pace without time for reflection, we do ourselves a disservice and lose the grounding that completes us.  Knowing when to be busy and when to stop is crucial for your own mental health.

In a recent discussion at church the whole tension of the Mary/Martha syndrome got a work over.  I would love to be a Mary sometimes, but when the kids all walk in the door, the first question is, “What’s for dinner, Nana?”  Close on its heels comes, “When are we eating, Nana?”   Like all scripture stories, we are given a summary of what took place.  I’m wondering how much older Martha was than Mary.  If Jesus later said, “Help your sister more, kiddo.”  If Martha hadn’t fixed dinner, would He have turned stones to bread? Was there a local catering firm?

Women are called to be Marthas 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Yet they need those Mary moments.  If you are an introvert, you need more Mary moments, and if you are an extrovert, don’t fool yourself.  You still need time for solitude and reflection lest you grow shallow and cold.  The trick is to know yourself.  Know your own warning signals.  Pay attention, and carve Mary moments into your day when you need them.  And if you are a crazy, mixed up extroverted introvert, heaven help you!  You just might be a mess like me, lol.

Book Review: How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies

Bill’s sister wandered through a book store and found this.  She sent it to me.  First published in 1988, I found it still the most comprehensive and helpful book on the subject, despite its age.  This comprehensive guide covers all facets of grieving and healing after loss.  She begins with a thorough lesson on grief–the physical, psychological, and social impacts.  She recognizes the practical implications and how they affect everything from your wallet to where you live.  She doesn’t stop there.

Whether you’ve lost a spouse, a child, a relative, a best friend or a beloved pet, the manifestations of grief threaten to overwhelm daily life.  While no map exists with a direct path to healing, insight does help.  A lot.

We lost Alma so suddenly, there was no time to say goodbye.  He was gone by the time we reached the hospital, and I found myself sobbing over his body, a part of me astonished by the depth of my expression, and a part of me asking, “What just happened here?”  I remained paralyzed for weeks, racked by the shattering question, “How could my son lay dying 100 yards from me and I not know that?  How is that even possible?”  Healing remains slow and each gain hard won. waiting

But let me be totally honest.  I didn’t want to just say goodbye, I wanted to say, “Could you fix the mower?” “I’d love a new coffee table, would you make me one?” “Katelyn is getting pretty saucy, could you start a boot camp and bring her in line?” “Would you go with us to Alaska?”  I still want to say all those things, and I still watch for him to walk through that door.  I am not the only one.

Finding the will, the courage, the peace, the strength, the oomph to go on living is a good thing.  I heartily recommend this excellent read.

Art Journalling for Grieving Parents

I admit it freely.  I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination.  I accepted that grim verdict in kindergarten, when my stick figures looked like trees from stories straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the scary ones (and that’s about all of them).  Fast forward 60 years, tamp in excruciating loss, and something magical happens when I get creative with my favorite scriptures.  Don’t get your hopes up.  It’s still not art.  But it’s MY art, and I love the experience, even when I don’t necessarily love the outcome.

My fascination began several years ago.  I first purchased a Bible with wide margins, because of course I needed space for my masterpieces (smiling, here), and I was NOT going to try anything disastrous in my study Bible, already cross-referenced and color-coded to my heart’s desire.  I found one with simple wording, and I loved it.  Then I got some colored pencils.  Awkward first attempts humbled me and brought it all to a screeching halt.  Nothing on the page resembled the fantasy in my mind.  Feelings of inadequacy were overpowering, so I put it all away for awhile.

Then Alma died.  My brain short-circuited.  I know no other way to put it.  Thoughts turned in circles or wandered off and got lost in a haze of confusion.  Taking a thought from point A to point B took repeated tries and enormous energy.  In between it all I cried a lot.  Counsel like, “Be brave,” or “You’ll get through this,” or “It just takes time,” did little to dissipate the swirl in my head.  I lacked a North Start for orienting myself inside of myself.  In describing sudden loss Dr. Rando aptly states, “The loss is so disruptive that recovery almost always is complicated.  This is because the adaptive capacities are so severely assaulted and the ability to cope is so critically injured that functioning is seriously impaired.  Grievers are overwhelmed.”  How good to know I was normal!

In desperation one day I picked up my journalling Bible.  A short verse that spiraled in my brain found expression on the page and amplified itself into a meaning I could understand.  I began coating pages with gesso, invested in paint markers and calligraphy pens.  I still am not an artist, but God does not require that of me.  He only asks for a willing heart and acceptance of His love; He inspires the outcome.  I hope He likes His handiwork, because it’s not really ART, just art.

How long will this stage last?  I have no idea.  Some days I think I function pretty well.  Other times I am reduced to tears.  As adaptive changes take place within Alma’s family I grieve all over again, and I feel like I’m losing him over and over and over.  Three steps forward, four steps back; five months later I’m still all over the map.  I hope Someone has a perfect plan for all this, because I feel very much like a marker in a game of Parchesi.  I wonder how I’d draw that…

We Need a New Holiday

Today is World Mosquito Day…is that even a holiday?  Seriously?  Who are these people?  Personally, I’m not entirely sure God created mosquitoes.  I think they might be some aberration from the fall, a miniature hummingbird type of insect that started drinking human blood instead of nectar, right out of a horror movie.

Face it.  We live in a dying world.  Even if you don’t believe in creation science, the second law of thermodynamics imparts a truth about entropy and degeneration affirming that same concept.  So I get maggots.  I get vultures.  I just don’t get mosquitoes, nor do I wish to honor them with a day of recognition.  It’s like saying, “Yes, this is the day we honor yellow fever.”  Or how about, “This is national plague day, because we love it so much.”

To right this wrong, I’m changing it.  Right here and now.  I welcome your support in my campaign to make this World Smile Day.  Smiling improves the spirits of the person who sees the smile, and get this, it also improves the mood of the person who smiles as well.  It benefits everyone.  In a world of snarling politicians, loco gunmen, nutso terrorists, and rude drivers, I think smiling ranks right up there with Mother Teresa.  Just smile.  All day long.  Through tough times, challenging encounters, red lights and dawdlers in aisles.  Smile through Facebook; I know it’s hard.  Smile at arguing children.  Just smile.

I found seven physiological benefits derived from this small change in your day:  Smiling improves mood, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, enhances your immune system, lowers pain thresholds, improves relationships, and increases longevity.  Even when you feel like it’s a plastic smile, just paste it on a cranky face without a trace of genuine good will, and the smile begins its work.  Study after study confirms that any smile triggers these benefits.

smiling
This gal’s laughter is absolutely infectious!

I find it no accident that many of my smiles come from little ones who know what a good belly laugh sounds like, who smile so willingly, who model a life of joy.  When I need a manufactured smile I think of them, and it just floats to the surface.  I challenge you to find your happy place and do likewise.

Show some teeth today!  Let’s not celebrate mosquitoes, those dratted blood suckers.  Let’s celebrate smiles and make it our new holiday!

smile 2
These little beauties always bring a smile to my face.

Crisp Thoughts Come from Insightful Reading

“So many books, so little time.”  The quote is attributed to Frank Zappa.  Visit a local bookstore, library or Amazon, and you know that books abound.  Here’s the thing:  Reading without contemplation, without introspection, without making the author’s message personal, is a lot like eating a Snickers for lunch.  Tasty, but little to no nutritional value.  Pure pleasure reading produces the lamentable Scarecrow of Oz, unable think deep thoughts.

One of the best books I found for encouraging me to think, reflect, and create coherent thoughts comes in the form of a workbook.  You’ll find it loaded with inspirational quotes and writing prompts for learning the craft of writing, but basic to the heart of the process are the daily morning pages.  The simple act of capturing thoughts on paper trains the mind to think critically.  Consistent practice produces the tendency to think more critically about literature, politics, diet and all parts of the geographical map where my mind wanders.

Ya’ll know how much I value a reading plan that stretches the mind to think When Not to Lose Weight.  This I consider just as important.  Learning how to think critically comes with practice.  Using that old gray matter for something besides figuring out “who done it” in a page turning mystery requires usage.  Reading insightful literature.  Consistently practicing my morning pages.

I like to use a three ring binder for my morning pages.  I use a 3-hole punch to insert not just notebook paper, but beautiful papers igniting my creative juices.  Sometimes I continue to journal after my morning pages, and that lovely paper makes my pen slide better across the page.  Really.  I like to write snippets for my book, list topics I need to study, work on my to do list, write about a good book or a controversial topic.  In short, I write.  At the end of each year I remove the bundle and start anew.  What are you doing to become a better thinker of great thoughts?books

Be a Warrior

Another year of summer camps has drawn to a close, and I find myself conflicted with warring emotions.  Of course “glad to be home” doesn’t begin to describe how much I missed my bed and my bathroom.  Naturally I’m sighing with relief to escape the sun, the bugs and dirt.  Unfamiliar schedules and different foods lost their allure the second day of camp.  Yet I leave behind countless youth floundering in difficult life situations.  My own misfortunes pale in comparison.

Their needs break my heart.  And so I find myself humming the theme song of Camp Bountiful every day.  “I fall on my knees and I fight like a warrior.  I’m a warrior on my knees.  I call on the name of the One who is conqueror…”  Gotta’ love Steven Curtis Chapman!  I chose pictures of victory for this post, rather than pics of lives in chaos, because I believe the victory lies before us if we choose to embrace it.

In the aftermath I find two camps of thought.  One judges the kids and their music and their demonstrable cries for help.  The other falls on their knees in intercession.  In my lifetime I have never seen a generation so mired in the landscape surrounding them.  The world’s incessant violence, divisive politics, variant lifestyles and degenerating morals leave wrecked lives in its wake, reflecting back to discerning eyes exactly what they see. As the famous pragmatist William James once wrote, “Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.”  So, do you want to make a difference?  What the troubled kids you know really need is warriors.  I choose to be a warrior.  Why not join me?

Human Foosball

Our people cannot remember a nastier time.  In our lifetimes we’ve witnessed an almost foosballtotal degeneration in the fabric of public discourse.  Americans used to be known as polite, annoyingly cheerful people.  No more.  We’ve sunk into a nation of contentious, sniping pin balls slinging insults back and forth indiscriminately.  I find it alarming.

These sharp lines of demarcation didn’t materialize out of thin air.  Think about it.  Facebook tailors our feeds with things we like to read.  Private news channels spin their own versions of the truth, which we like to hear.  We hang with people we find comfortable.  The result is an uninformed, uneducated public who only know one point of view.  Add a few rants here and there, and rhetoric bounces unpredictably, totally out of control.

But who mans the handles in our foosball game of life?  Remember, the enemy isn’t the person with an opposing point of view.  A common enemy plays us like a pro.  Lest we perish in riots flamed by uninformed passion, every citizen must find it incumbent upon himself to level the playing field.  Speak temperately.  Exercise prudence.  Be circumspect.  Stop reacting.  Find a way to be an example of courtesy.  Put control of the nation back into the hands of rational, caring Americans who decide not to be human foosball pieces in someone else’s game.  Let’s play a game where we call the shots.

 

I Suck at Hula Hoops

I know people who sway with the greatest of ease.  Hula hoops made their debut while I dawdled on the swings in third grade.  Kids on my block counted those plastic revolutions until I got dizzy trying to keep up.  Come to think of it, I fail at ALL categories of spinning.  My friends rhapsodized about the fun of carnival rides until I couldn’t wait to try one.  I rode my first in 5 grade, but it left me green and I truly woofed up my cookies.  Yup, I suck at all spinning things.

Yet every one of us manages to dance our way around the sun, day in and day out.  Some of us perform like a rapper with a caffeine buzz, while others waltz gracefully without breaking a sweat.  As you correctly imagine, I never end up at the waltzing end of that continuum.  I’m more the awkward spinner who never balances the hoop correctly and often sways madly trying to keep it from hitting rock bottom.  And when I try spinning multiple hoops?  Put 911 on speed dial.  Really.  One item at a time, please.

The gyrations of life sometimes leave me dizzy and disoriented.  I offer you three simple remedies should you be more like me than you care to admit:

  • First of all, determine your presence in this hula hoop contest we call life.  More than showing up, commit to engage in the process, improving each day in spite of your lack of coordination. Realize every single person on the planet sways in a rhythm personalized by circumstance and respect those differences.  Life=Swaying.
  • Secondly, serve others.  Today.  This minute.  Think of someone who needs your help and give it willingly.  That small act of service in your corner of the world, done by folks all around the globe, keeps our planet-spinning hoops from hitting rock bottom.  We all need a little timely help to keep the hoops swaying.
  • And finally, set apart 5 minutes or more for introspection.  This last step, most critical of all, helps you find your balance.  Isaiah said it well:  “Get thee up into the high mountain.”  As you gain a better perspective, life makes more sense.

I like to believe that hula hoops don’t define me.  I am more than the soul buffeted by swirling winds and dizzying life experiences.  I once saw a documentary on the frenetic lifestyle of the Roaring Twenties, and witnessed a world spinning out of control.  The crash was inevitable, but only because their hoops got so far out of whack.  By showing up, serving others, and finding balance my crazy world spins under control.  A hundred million of us all swaying in sync, keeps society’s crazy hoops from crashing.   I may sway like a drunken sailor, but hey!  I’m swaying.  I remind myself every day, “Be the hoop!  Just be the hoop!”

 

Who’s Your Favorite Patriot?

Tough question, right?  When I look for a worthy candidate, I’m left scratching my head.  Leadership is like using a catalyst, an agent that causes a chemical reaction when mixed with another compound.  Nothing happens until the catalyst enters the mix.  When our Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia more than 200 years ago to write the Constitution, our population numbered around 3 million, yet six world-class leaders sat among the authors of that historical document.  The mix of those great minds resulted in a document standing the test of time.

Today we number at more than 200 million Americans, and in looking at the explosion of media before us, one would think rock stars, Hollywood icons and quarterbacks serve as present day heroes.  Our world, both locally and abroad, suffers from a drought of great leadership.  With the press so firmly partitioned into bias camps, we find no good way to separate the sheep from the goats, much less ascertain the truth of what takes place, who did what when, or which quote to believe.

Now before you clamor for one public figure or another, realize I speak hypothetically.  No real contest exists.  I am expressing equal disdain for all public figures in every bias camp.  My past vote for candidates remains private.  I bear the utmost respect for the office of the Presidency and the man who serves, whether I count him my favorite patriot or not.  Because I respect the office of the President of the United States do not assume my opposite assignment of villain status to all his naysayers.  None of these dignitaries in any office earned my vote as favorite patriot, so don’t jump on your your high horse too quickly, just take it all at face value.

My candidate for favorite patriot this 4th of July is…the unknown soldier.  He cannot be vilified.  He cannot be microscopically scrutinized for missteps or words inadvertently spoken.  His sole accomplishment lies in the anonymity and totality of his service.  His willingness to give his all without recognition or remuneration or medal of any kind speaks volumes about his character and qualification.  Indeed, he cannot be faulted in any way.

And that’s the real problem, isn’t it?  Everyone feels the need to point fingers, weigh in, assess blame, state an opinion.  Where are our public servants?  Is their conspicuous absence the fault of the press?  The people?  The cowardice of the public servants?  Until we can read a true and faithful report of the real actions and words of a single public figure, gratefully accept the service rendered, politely suggest things to improve the situation, making sure everyone involved feels safe to participate, and at the end of the day we bury our hatchets and sleep peacefully at night, our hero will remain the one unimpeachable candidate resting in an unknown grave.  The Unknown Soldier.  May he rest in peace.  May we find more of his ilk and stature in the days to come.  We desperately need them.