Getting off ‘the facebook’

So on Monday, I deactivated my Facebook account. Shocking I know! I still have an account for work purposes so I’m not fully free of it but from a personal and social point of view, it’s gone. I did it for a few reasons, the biggest being the need to simplify and to stop the incessant noise that is social media.

Keeping in mind my word for the year, I’m looking for ways to rest in all aspects of my life so that my whole being is leaning towards that rest and not just my physical body. I’ll admit, it felt foreign at first, to not have the meme’s, the satire, the cute and fluffy videos, the ‘connection’ to people I know. But oh my goodness, to not see every latest political disaster, every cause that needs my immediate attention, the spiritual posts that remind me how far short I fall (constantly!) – to just have quiet has been bliss! And to realise how often, when I had a few spare minutes, I would pick up my phone and just trawl Facebook mindlessly…well, it’s embarrassing to admit but it was A LOT. Now, instead of reaching for that button on my phone, I can just sit and think, refocus my mind on God, say a short prayer of thankfulness and allow my mind to….rest 🙂

It’s funny too, I now have more coffee dates with friends set in my diary after removing myself from Facebook. See Facebook gives us the impression of connection and community (and I do think there are circumstances in which that connection and community are very real indeed but that’s for another post!) but often comes up short. Nothing, nothing, can replace face to face connection with other people. People may not be able to tell from a status or online chat how we are really doing – put us in front of each other though and you can tell if that smile doesn’t quite reach their eyes or if their hands are shaking or their shoulders are slumped.

We need to actually see one another in order to really ‘see’ one another.

So am I advocating for everyone to get off Facebook? I guess I am! But I’m also realistic and know that the likelihood of that is pretty slim 🙂 I wasn’t disciplined enough to just cut down and limit my usage but maybe you are. All I know is that in our current world, we are generally overloaded, stressed and feeling isolated. Seek real connection. I dare you.

This Christmas season

My daughter was curious after hearing a teacher say they have a different ‘theme and colour’ for Christmas every year. We don’t do this in our home, so the concept was entirely new to her and she wasn’t sure what it meant. Once I explained that it involved getting new decorations each year, she said, “So you don’t use the same ones each year? I don’t like that at all. Getting out the old Christmas decorations is like opening a box of memories every year.” Ah, yes, I’ve definitely passed on my sentimentality gene!

Memories are slippery things and we often need a prompt to set our minds off wandering the past, don’t we? When I was in England recently with my dad and sister, I heard so many stories I hadn’t heard before from my dad simply because there were other people prompting incidents and activities from his childhood or teenage years. And it was wonderful. One of my uncle’s in particular, having been in the Navy for a lot of his working life, has many, many stories and it just took a word or line of conversation to trigger his memory about a particular (usually hilarious!) thing that happened.

Memories are great because they remind us who we are and they remind us of those we’ve travelled life with. They are a two edged sword though, aren’t they? Some memories that are triggered bring a wave of sadness, of remorse, or of regret.

In light of the recent happenings in Europe and other countries where lives have been senselessly lost, this Christmas will be hard for so many people, with memories both intensely painful and achingly sweet.

And it will be hard for people we know, our neighbours and our friends who have been touched by loss and grief this year or years gone by. We need to remember that each person we meet has wounds; some that are fresh and real, some that have scarred and healed but are still very much felt.

Let’s treat each other with gentleness and kindness as we rush about cooking, cleaning, buying and wrapping presents. Let’s aim at having some empathy for those we come into contact with, remembering that a smile can hide a world of pain. And if you’re the one who is suffering loss at this time, if this Christmas is especially hard because of who won’t be there, treat yourself with kindness too. Give yourself the same space and understanding as you would a friend.

Each Christmas when we celebrate and spend time together, we’re not only making new memories, we’re consolidating the old ones and engendering a greater sense of fellowship as family and friends; a greater connection to each other as all being innately human.

This Christmas season, let’s be mindful of those whose memories are difficult to manage and help make some good memories for them in the midst of their pain.

The challenge of parenting adult children

Our daughter has safely arrived in Nepal and by all reports, is already having a great time 🙂

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Watching her walk under that ‘departure’ sign by herself was a very hard parenting moment. But we did it! Waiting to hear from her after the plane had landed that she was with staff and at the hotel was a very long two hours. But we did it!

In the lead up to her trip, the various responses about it to us as parents has been interesting to say the least. We’ve had people look at us like we are the most irresponsible parents in the world, others who just shake their heads and say they wouldn’t allow their child to do it, those who’ve just said they wouldn’t be able to do it, and those few who thought it was fantastic.

I chatted it over with a wise and wonderful friend of mine and worried that if something happened to her, and we knew we could have stopped her going, we would never forgive ourselves. She said, “Stopping her from going would have been an abuse of your parental power.”

That gave me so much comfort in the days before her flight. Although we probably could have talked her out of it (I think!), there is no way we should have. Whenever we’re given the privilege of an invitation by our adult children to weigh in on their decision making, we need to be mindful that it is just that – a privilege. We don’t have any right to say what they should do once grown. We need to give them that unconditional love – regardless of whether that decision is going to make us uncomfortable by stressing us or causing us to worry.

We’ve already had a bit of practice with this, since our 24 year old son will never, ever have a nice safe job in an office and a house in the suburbs five doors down from us. He has always sought an ‘unsafe’ life and has never shied away from doing ‘the hard thing’ either. Not that he is reckless or risk-taking for the sake of it, quite the opposite. His decisions are calculated and thoughtful. But they are not ‘safe’ from a parental perspective.

Too often we view our children as possessions, something to be proud of and shown off to our friends. And we are far too often worried about how their decisions affect us, rather than them.

We need to take a step back sometimes and check where we are coming from. Are we advising them based on our fears or their best life, whatever that may look like?

Our children are not ‘ours’. They are their own. And the more we realise that, the more peace we will have, no matter what they decide to do or where they decide to go to do it.

Love is bittersweet

A dear friend of mine is facing tragic news about a loved one. In telling me the news, something she said brought even more tears to my eyes for its sheer beauty.

“We’re just trying to keep things normal at the moment, you know, doing all our usual things. We don’t need to suddenly focus on spending time doing special things together and savouring every moment because we’ve always done that.”

And it’s true, the relationships I see that surround this friend are close, connected and full of appreciation and love for one another. It’s real, not saccharine in any way, and it’s beautiful.

So many people don’t realise they need to do the special things now. They wait until an impending disaster looms before seeing that it’s the people who matter. They wait until the news that they are going to lose someone they love hits them right between the eyes before they begin to value them above work, money, success or security.

How refreshing, how heartbreakingly wonderful, to know people who get it and live like it. It’s been a reminder to me to live in the moment more; to appreciate, really properly, those around me; to not wait until I only have weeks, months or a couple of years to enjoy and delight in those I love and who love me.

There’s a bittersweet sadness that comes from losing a loved one you are thoroughly invested in. It makes it harder that they are going but there’s such enormous comfort in knowing you gave it all you had, that you loved without limits or conditions. Bittersweet but completely worth it.

Are you wasting time working, accumulating things money can buy, on the false notion that there is time later for relationships? There is truly nothing more devastating than knowing you’ve been focusing on what doesn’t matter and doesn’t count at the expense of those around you who might be gone in an instant.

You might live to a ripe old age, and all your loved ones too, then, how wonderful to have lived a life rich in love, full and brimming with joy because you relished it. And if you don’t, or if a loved one doesn’t, you will know you sucked the very marrow out of life for however long you had together.

Don’t place value on things that don’t deserve it.

Don’t wait. Live the special moments now. And do it with all your heart.

The problem with noise

I’ve been thinking a lot about noise lately. Noise has the ability to calm by way of relaxing music or a soothing voice; it can startle eg a loud unexpected bang; it can irritate like a barking dog or dripping tap. Our relationship with noise is dependent on our mood usually. I have memories of my mother saying, usually towards the end of the long Christmas school holidays, that she just needed some ‘quiet’, and now I find myself saying a similar thing!

It was interesting to note that the dictionary definition of noise included this: Informal. extraneous, irrelevant, or meaningless facts, information, statistics, etc. There is so much more of this type of noise these days, isn’t there?

I find increasingly that when I feel I need some quiet, I’m hankering to escape the ‘noise’ of the world; to take myself off where there is no internet connection and no traffic or people.
We are bombarded with noise now. Our inboxes are filled with ‘noise’ – extraneous, irrelevant, meaningless facts and information. Our social media sites, as well as giving us updates on our friends, also deals out an unhealthy amount of noise.

And, for me, anyway, that noise can be so loud that it drowns out the noise we do want to hear. We get so used to the white noise filling our heads that we miss out on other important sounds.

We miss the sound of a friend, desperate for connection because we end up skimming our facebook newsfeed due to all the other noise. We miss the sound of our children, begging us to play, to notice them, to really see them, in the midst of our phones pinging and beeping with emails and text messages.

And we miss the sound of our own souls screaming for attention in a world noisy with spiritual options, self-help mantras and conflicting dogma. We are so overcome with noise that we miss the most important sounds of all.

It’s a challenge to listen when so much noise surrounds us. It’s hard to decipher the sounds we should listen to and the sounds we should ignore. But, it is possible. It just may take some decision making, followed up with some discipline. At the beginning of the year, I ‘unsubscribed’ from many newsletters, blogs and websites. There was nothing wrong, per se, with those things, it was simply too much noise.

And you know what, I haven’t missed them! Not one bit. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. I can feel myself mentally exhaling in relief that my inbox is now uncluttered and ‘less’ than it used to be. And that’s just a start. I’ve been paring down in other ways too – picking my phone up less, turning the TV on less, checking facebook less. As a result, I’m thinking more, connecting more, reading more – enjoying more! That old maxim really is true – less is more.
Is there too much noise in your life? What sounds are you missing out on because of it? Maybe it’s time to start tuning in to what really matters and tuning out the rest.

Comparing how it is, to how it should be

Here in the land of Oz, it’s supposed to be getting cooler; it is autumn after all, and has been for nearly a month. The only problem is that it hasn’t been getting cooler at all. It’s actually been very hot.

Lately, when we’ve had 42 degree days (that’s about 107 F for all you northern hemisphere peeps) and the most common cry around our house was “It’s not supposed to be this hot!!” And that’s a fact, it shouldn’t be this hot at this time of year – but it is.

I think it feels worse because psychologically we were all geared up for it to get cooler. So how we ‘feel’ it, is more intense because “it’s not supposed to be like this!” When it’s the middle of summer and it’s 42 degrees, we just shrug and say “Well, it is summer!” We’re not surprised because our mindset is in summer mode.

And we do this with other areas of our lives, don’t we? When what should be happening is at odds with what is actually happening, we find it harder to cope with. I remember years ago talking to people older and wiser than me about a situation involving someone I love and saying “But they should be coping with it by now!” And the response that came back has always stayed with me, although I don’t always remember to live by it. “You have to deal with things/people as they are, not as you think they should be.”

We can’t change how those around us are living by telling them that they should be living differently. The only person we can change is ourselves. Whether we think people ‘should’ be over something, coping with a situation or showing progression in their thinking and growth, if they aren’t, they aren’t. And I have no business saying it must be otherwise.

Once again we find that if we focus on our own journey and are less concerned (in the right way) about where others are on their journey, we will have less time to pass judgement on those around us.

If we can accept that sometimes where people are is more important than where they ‘should’ be, we can truly begin to make a difference in other’s lives and grow ourselves.

Important conversations

The other day, my eleven year old came home with the school-set task of writing a speech on cyber bullying. One of the benefits of being slightly skilled with words is that one’s children deem it useful to have one read over their work; and this has the added benefit of me being very up to date on what they’re studying at school.

I was startled that at eleven, she had been shown a video of a girl who had ended her life due to cyber bullying. I was already formulating my complaint to the school, deciding which teacher to take it to first etc etc. And then, as the discussion went on, I realised how thankful I was that she had been given this assignment. It had paved the way for a great conversation on cyber bullying, its effects and sometimes tragic consequences.

It’s scary to talk about these issues; issues like suicide, self-harm, depression, eating and anxiety disorders. They make us afraid; as though talking about them and acknowledging their existence will somehow beckon them to our door. Sure, we all know in our heads that talking about these issues actually reduces the chances, but in our hearts, it’s still scary.

It’s confronting to hear these words coming out of my barely pubescent daughter’s mouth. And part of it, actually, nearly all of it, is that I don’t want her to see this ugly, awful, nasty side of life – of people. I don’t want her to be confronted with the cruelty that is cyber bullying and the devastating ramifications of it all. I want her to still believe that bad things don’t happen to good people, that “it will never happen to me” can be true, that if we just all try hard enough to get along, peace will reign. And I want to believe those things too. Oh, how desperately I want to believe them.

By the end of the conversation, we had talked about the reasons why bullies bully, why it effects some people more than others, and, importantly, what to do and how to feel if it ever happens to her. We talked about what to do if we see someone being bullied. We talked about social media, its dangers and its benefits. We talked about when to believe what someone is saying to you or about you. We talked about who to believe and who not to believe. We talked about remembering that God made us and that His opinion is the only one that matters. We talked about how hard it is to remember that sometimes. We talked. And we talked.

What started out as a conversation about an assignment, became one of  the most important conversations we will have.

And the real kicker at the end?

“I love talking to you, Mum. Especially about things like this that really matter.”

Some conversations are hard to have; have them anyway.

 

 

Tick tock, tick tock…time keeps on tickin’!

TimeOne of my favourite quotes at the moment is by Seth Godin:

You don’t need more time; you just need to decide.

Most of us have a reasonable understanding that our time is precious, yet more than ever, we live in an age filled to the brim with ‘time-wasters’.

I’ve been challenged recently to think more about how I spend this precious commodity of time, and Seth Godin’s quote keeps reminding me that, outside of major life crisis, how I spend my time is my decision.

I’ve started to view everything I do through the lens of ‘Is this activity in keeping with my values?’. And that’s not as strict and rigid as it sounds.

If I value relationships, then any activity or contact with people is significant and in keeping with my values. This means that a day spent with my daughter shopping and having cups of tea is not wasted even though I don’t much value shopping and consumerism. What I do value is maintaining a good relationship with my daughter, and a good cup of tea, of course!

You see, you can easily find what your values are by having a close look at how you spend your time and whether the actual priority and the perceived priority are the same. Sometimes we think our priorities are one thing but if we examine how we are spending our time, it reveals something quite different.

By keeping the question of whether or not an activity serves our values in the forefront of our minds, we can begin to make better decisions. And it stops us from wasting time because really, there is enough time to do all we need to do, we just need to be better managers of it.

I’m finding I have greater satisfaction at the end of the day if I simply remember to do this. I can go to sleep each night knowing I’ve made choices that reinforce my values, which for me, are usually all about relationships – upwards, outwards and inwards.

We all want our life to have meaning. What we often don’t realise is that we are the keepers of whether it does or not. We are free to choose, each and every day, whether we advance our values or hinder them. We get to choose what our life looks like, regardless of our circumstances.

We are constantly making choices, whether we are conscious of it or not. If we start being aware of our choices and what it says about our values, we can begin to align the two and live a life of meaning and richness.

Sometimes, it’s the small things that separate

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I took this photo on our holiday earlier in the year. I was so struck by the ridiculousness of this tiny rock keeping these two big boulders separate.

It’s funny how small things can keep other things apart. Like people.

You know the scenario, a small issue with your spouse blows up into something huge and before you know it, you’re both going to bed shrouded in a heavy silence.

Or that work colleague who always uses your mug.

Or it might be a small word that keeps people apart, spoken in jest or in haste.

Sometimes it’s a small thing like a ‘sorry’ not said, or an ‘I love you’ that remains unspoken and forges a space in a relationship that might as well be a chasm.

Yes, sometimes it’s the small things that separate.

Those two boulders were huge; that stone in between was small. And you know what? Because I’m the curious-can’t-leave-anything-alone kind, I reached in and tried to move that small stone. It moved, quite freely too.

Often when we look closely at the things keeping us apart from others, we discover they are just small stones, that move quite easily when prodded. Don’t let the small things keep you separated from those who matter to you. Go on, give that small stone a wiggle and see what happens!

NB. For the record, I didn’t fully dislodge the stone. I’m not that silly!

Where are all the jesters?

I read on another blog recently (can’t remember where!) a one-liner about the role of the jester in court life. One of the privileges that was afforded the court jester was his freedom to speak his mind when no-one else could. He (or she, but mostly he) could poke fun at the lords and ladies and even the royals themselves. Their role was not only to bring comedy and generally run amok, but also to speak the truth and have permission to keep everyone in their place. What a cool job 🙂 If I could spend my days being paid to make people laugh one minute and speak the truth to them the next, I would nearly die from sheer enjoyment and job satisfaction!

It seems to me that one of the things wrong in our society is that we have no court jesters – there’s a distinct lack of ‘no-men’ but an abundance of ‘yes-men’ in our political parties, our big businesses and in pretty much any other hierarchical system around.

One of the things I love about our Aussie culture, is the good natured teasing. You know someone loves and accepts you when they make fun of you 🙂 The more enthusiastic the banter between friends, the greater the love. And somehow, we all know where the line is, and it’s rarely crossed.

We have had to teach two of our children in particular to learn how to laugh at themselves and how to take a joke. I’m not advocating for bullying or taunting, but the world is not going to treat us with kid gloves, so we need to teach our children how to roll with the punches and laugh along with the joke, even if they are the subject. And, importantly, how to not take offence. (On a side note, how debilitating and deflating to a nasty bully if their subject laughs and joins in the joke! Very effective at defusing tense situations.)

I know some adults who could do with having a court jester in their lives, not only to make them smile but to bring some truth. With all our pop psychology these days about [cue rainforest soundtrack] ‘surrounding ourselves with good energy and only those who accept and love us as we are’, it’s easy to see why people are becoming more sensitive and self centred. What those type of quotes are really saying is ‘surround yourself with people who think exactly the way you do and are not going to point out when you are doing something wrong, hurtful or selfish’. Essentially, do away with the court jester and only allow the ‘yes-men’ into your circle of friends.

I’m lucky enough to have a few jesters in my life, and I am so very thankful. They keep me grounded in reality, frequently tell me things I don’t necessarily want to hear and don’t allow me to ignore those character traits that need adjustment.They also help me to laugh at myself and life in general.

Do you have a court jester?