Hope and the O.D.D

I am beginning to think of this blog as my Occasional Death Diary since it seems all I do is wait for someone dear to me to pass away and then blog about it. At the end of May, my last living grandparent went to be with Jesus. To say her going left a hole in my center is an understatement. She took my childhood with her.

And yet. Life plods on, intrepid, slow, determined. I have three teenagers and a best friend for a husband. I have my parents and my sisters, and, well, stuff keeps me here. I’m still running in my neighborhood, still reading big books, and writing. It may seem dramatic to say, but I’m a little surprised and offended by my survival instinct. We keep going, most of us, with bloodied hearts. It turns out, that’s normal. Jesus had a bloodied heart, too, once. Someday he will make all things new. Until then, he is with us, and we press on.

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Diagnostic

What do you need most? 

Have you asked yourself that lately?

Would your answer change if your spouse were the one asking?  A friend?  A travel agent?  Your mom?

It’s worth thinking (and maybe writing) about.

The answer might free you if you’re brave enough to tell the truth.

A Different Story (from the ones you’ve probably heard)

I love spending time with people who travel the world–or people who come from other places and have traveled to the U.S. where, happily, our paths have crossed and ended  in a meal or a long cup of coffee.  Hearing their stories, flipping through their pictures, and comparing notes of my own travels, enlarges my view of the world and helps me gain perspective.

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Specifically, talking to people who go other places reminds me that the world is enormous and that there are a billion, ordinary, life-changing events unfolding on every continent everyday, even as I brush my teeth in the morning.  I may not know what each one is, but being aware that I am small in this vast universe, that my joys and sorrows are coinciding with myriad others across the globe, helps me to disengage from my toxic tendency to navel-gaze.

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And it helps me to reject the ubiquitous, Hunger Games media frenzy in our culture.

Because, again, my traveling friends remind me that many important things are happening all the time, and no one is reporting them.

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It’s life-affirming to remember this.

Just because the Internet screams at me, demanding that I watch the dickie-bird and react, doesn’t mean that it’s telling me the truth.  By that, I mean, the whole truth, the larger truth of life.

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My friends remind me, and I feel relief.

I think to myself, I am small, thank God, and there’s more to this story of the world.

On Surviving the World With Your Heart Intact

There’s a lot going on in the world these days, as there always has been, of course.  Before the rise of the Great and Mighty Internet, we only knew those bits of information hearty enough to make their way across the ocean by mouth.  We digested them, sometimes with fear and trembling, in bite-sized chunks, and then folded our papers.

Now we know things (whether they are true or not is beside the point) before they’ve even happened.  And it seems that most of them are bad.

A person can only handle so many heartbreaks, hers or other people’s, before she begins to curl inward.  And this is what I’ve done when I’ve become aware of too much.  I’ve felt my insides folding up shop like those illegal vendors with their tarps spread on Paris streets.  I’ve gathered the corners of my heart, all its heavy trinkets sliding to the middle, and I’ve thrown it behind me, the weight now on my back.

And, of course, I’ve prayed.  But my prayers have often been breathless and tight, not made of deliberate words, but of bile, of pure acid.  And as I’ve waited for peace to alight, I have felt the locusts scrambling for dominance in my chest.

My prayers are different now, mostly.  I ask for the strength to bear what I’m meant to, those hard things that will bring honor to the Lord, and make a difference on earth.  And I ask for the courage not to look too long at what I’m sure will destroy me.

After I’ve prayed, I think about things that are right and good.  I do this with ninja-like intensity.  What are the beautiful things in the world?  Who made them?  He is the Ultimate Good, and He is here, remember?

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Finally, because I’m a writer, I write.

And, of course, the earthquakes keep coming, and the bodies continue to hit the floor.  The Thought Police wield their intellectual billy clubs, and our neighbors look sideways at us.

But there is Hope.  Emily Dickinson said it’s a thing with feathers.  I say it’s the One who made feathers.

Going On An (Information) Diet–Starving Distraction to Gain Peace

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I’ve been thinking a lot about peace these days, what it means to me and my family, how to hang on to it over the long-haul.  I’m a Christian, so I understand peace to be, ultimately, about the Prince of Peace, Jesus.  He’s who we’re singing about in all those carols this time of year, and remembering that helps me to breathe in the midst of the season’s festivities.  Entering into and nurturing a relationship with him is, I’ve discovered, the starting point to a fundamentally different kind of (peace-filled) existence.

Still, we all do things–year round–that sabotage our personal peace, things that end up affecting not just ourselves but our families and friends as well.  The number one way I work against myself in my quest to maintain a peaceful heart and home?

I consume too much media. 

We’ve all heard it; the human brain can store only so much information.  Yet never before have we humans had the ability to access as many important facts, hybrid lies, complete lies, and useless info-bits at the click of a button.  And I have a confession:  I love it.  Even if I can see that some Internet “fact” is a lie, it’s all good.  In that case, I can bookmark it, text it to my sister, and get the particular pleasure of discussing just how much of a lie said fact is.

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But a funny thing happens to me after too much engagement online, whether it’s social media, news websites, or blogs–I find that I can’t concentrate on my real life, and I get anxious.  The actual goings-on of my day get upstaged by the vague chatter in my brain as it tries to process enough (mostly mindless) info to last me a month, maybe a year.  I lose patience when my son tries to tell me about some world he discovered in Minecraft because I don’t have the mental space to receive One More Piece of Info.  This is sad because often he uses the sharing of factoids to jump-start deeper, more meaningful conversations with me.  I know all this.  Still, when he starts in, my brain screams no mas.

And then, when it’s dark news stories I’ve been consuming, I find myself replaying horrifying scenes in my mind, ad infinitum.  Even though I know that most of the time, a). I don’t have all the facts in order to ascertain the complete truth in a news story, and, b). I can’t help the situation, other than to pray, still I can’t shut the fretting off.  Then, as I worry about things I can’t change, I’m rendered useless to effect change in the ways I can.

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Now, since I have no plans to go permanently dark on the Internet (I work from home, after all), I’ve had to come up with other ways to mitigate the effects of media on my mind and in my home.  I’m not always faithful to stick to my resolution since information is to me like molten lava cake is to others.  Still, these things have helped:

I limit my exposure to social media.  I’m not a member of 50 different sites so I don’t have a ton of checking to do anyway.  When I do want to check a social site, I give myself two minutes or less on it if I don’t have any notifications that indicate something’s changed.  And if something has changed, I try to limit myself to ten minutes, tops.

I consume very little news.  Virtually none, to be honest.  It’s impossible to avoid headlines and I find that I can sort-of stay up on major events that way.  But any more info than a casual glance affords is too much for my anxious heart.  I try to pray for local, national, and world issues as they come to my mind but I do not spend time thinking about things over which I have no control.  This is a biggie for me.

Is my heart a perfect oasis of peace these days?  No.  Do I spend too much time thinking about things that have no real bearing on my actual life?  Sometimes.  But I’m working on it and it’s making a difference.

Is there any chance that cutting back on media consumption might help you too?