"Tonight if I don't sit and watch Parks and Rec, I'll probably cry," I told my husband the other night. It had been a stressful day ending a stressful week, I had just read a heartbreaking book about a 12-year-old girl who died of cancer, and I was feeling a lot of sad emotions. Peter had to do repairs and I generally don't watch TV by myself, so I ended up staying true to my prediction and crying for a little while.
Sad story, right? But the next day I realized something beautiful as I was in the car with my 1-year-old.
She's the only one of my kids that has accepted a pacifier, and that has made her the easiest baby yet. I mean, wow, pacifiers work miracles. Eight months ago the doctor told me that I need to take the pacifiers away, but that feels almost impossible. She cries so much more when she doesn't have it.
But during this car ride I had successfully kept the pacifier from her, and out of nowhere from the backseat I heard a beautiful little voice singing. No words, just sweet, high-pitched sounds coming from my precious daughter's mouth. I realized something quite poignant about pacifiers in that moment: they might block the crying, but they also block the singing.
We as grownups are no different.
There are limitless ways to pacify ourselves, drugs and alcohol being the most obvious and Netflix and social media being the most pervasive. Though most of these things are not inherently bad, we are cheating ourselves if we use them simply to silence our feelings...or even our boredom. Study after study has been churned out in recent years (like those mentioned here) about how boredom is fertile ground for creativity.
Hopping onto Facebook during that minute-long red light might have prevented you from a brilliant and revolutionary idea. On the other hand, sitting on a bench and thinking about nothing in particular for even five minutes might inspire you in a way that you'll remember for the rest of your life.
In the same way, it's in those moments that we're weeping over a hard situation that we might have a helpful new thought of clarity about it. In my emotional struggles over the past several years, I began to really treasure the idea of my crying-closet as a crucible, a place where different elements are melted together to make something new. Thankfully, God has lifted me out of that dark time, at least for now, but I've come out of that season as a much stronger and more robustly happy person. The pain was not just worth it but necessary.
The Bible strongly supports crying; look no further than John 11:35 ("Jesus wept") or the entire book of Psalms, chapter 6 especially. The difference between self-pity and godly sorrow is that self-pity looks inward and around, but godly sorrow looks up. Godward crying---or even Godward groaning or blubbering or whatever undignified sounds and faces you make when you're sad---is a good and healthy thing. He's the one who holds the whole universe and has given you this situation with intentionality, wisdom, and love. He loves to help His people know His love deeply and personally. Our joy increases depending on our desperation.
This is one of the reasons I aim to have natural childbirth. I quite acutely feel all the pain of pushing out a baby (and I'm super wimpy about it), but that sense of awareness not only helps me focus on a healthy delivery, but it's replaced by unmedicated feelings of delight when my child is finally born.
If we never face our feelings of sadness head-on, we never learn to hope. If we don't look sin and death in its ugly face and say "You've really messed things up," we won't feel as much of a need to look Jesus in His lovely face and say "You've conquered death, soon it will be swallowed up forever, and You will wipe away every tear." (1 Corinthians 15:57, Isaiah 25:8, Revelation 21:4.)
So let's evaluate whether we're seeking a healthy enjoyment of good gifts or if we're trying to silence our feelings. If we're blocking our pain, we're probably also blocking our joy.
And please give me advice for how to wean a kid off a pacifier. At this point, she is definitely going to need braces. ;)
The Perfectly Written Sub-Sub-Sub-Plot That is My Life
This Life Is Not Our Rest
Also, I really benefited from this week's Phil Vischer podcast and the interview with Andy Crouch about how technology is changing us.
And Charles Spurgeon's commentary on Psalm 6 will blow your mind. Since it's so old you can read it online for free.
Shortly after I turned 25, I suddenly felt compelled to action.
I spent hours writing punchy articles and sent them to the New York Times and Washington Post.
I planned multiple book proposals and plotted a Kickstarter campaign.
I even tweeted one of my favorite podcasters in hopes of convincing him I was interesting enough to be featured on his show as a non-famous guest.
None of these things came to fruition, in case you were wondering. But I did certainly learn something about myself:
I still think my self-worth needs to have numbers or titles attached to it.
I've got to have a life that's worth writing a biography about.
Or at least a byline that sounds a little more impressive than "I'm a wife and mom who lives in Tampa and writes for a blog that about eight people read." (Of course I'd figure out a way to mention that I've written for Christianity Today---meaning I wrote one article four years ago---because that's my biggest claim to fame.)
And I'm not alone in this desire to have quantifiable value, or a worth that can be measured by objective achievements. In simpler words: we want to prove we're important. Our culture is sick with it, and that's part of the reason that investing in the next generation isn't prized as an intelligent woman's way to spend her days.
Think about it: how many of the most highly-esteemed careers of our day actually involve spending time with children or the elderly? Our promotion-driven mindset leads us to believe that if we're actually growing in skill, knowledge, and value we've got to do something bigger and better. "Progress" is moving past humility and in-the-trenches lifestyle. If your job makes you wear the kind of clothes that need to be dry-cleaned, you've found yourself a legitimate career.
Even in mom-world, where I'm with other people who agree that people-investment is a valuable occupation, I find myself establishing worth by my achievements. At my first La Leche League meeting, I made sure to mention that my son was born at home, and I immediately gained approving nods of respect and knew I had reached "crunchy-mom" status. I've noticed that I've even begun to relish the quantifiable-ness of how many children I have. Four kids at twenty-five! I've got to be doing real stuff if I'm managing that.
I also have friends who are doing majorly important things and they don't have a fancy career or children.
One of my close friends earned a masters degree and spends her days working with blind students who don't want to learn. Many days---especially due to failures in the school system---surely feel like a total waste of time and effort. But it was difficult for these students to mask their joy when they found out that their teacher is actually going to stick with them for another year, unlike everyone else who was wearied by them after a year and moved onto "bigger and better things." Who knows what will become of these students who needed just one person to love them and think they were worth investment.
Another one of my smart, productive, and beautiful friends spent a long season as a stay-at-home wife with no kids. She stepped away from her lucrative career because she wanted to focus on being a good friend and neighbor. And she most certainly was to me. Her impact on the world is incalculable but vastly important.
One of the phrases that makes me grit my teeth is "if you don't start making something with your life, you're going to be flipping burgers at McDonald's." I'm sure there are burger-flippers at McDonald's who are being a bright and shining light of joy and encouragement to their co-workers, their friends, their families, and whatever else they're involved in off-the-clock.
My husband spent much of our first year of marriage shoveling sand into a concrete mixer; a couple years later he started a successful business and his salary quadrupled. Did his inherent worth change even one bit? Nope. Different joys and struggles, same importance as a person.
Let's stop talking about people of less-glamorous vocations as if they're less-than. People are made with great purpose and an inherent value that none of us can even wrap our minds around. To objectify someone---in praise or pity---because of their achievements is to have a very short-sighted perspective on the world.
This certainly doesn't mean we should spend all our days scrolling on our screens and fleeing from any scent of ambition. But I think it's high time we put our goals, dreams, and definitions of success on the table and evaluate what's really going to matter in, say, 10,000 years. (I'll write more on that later.)
Platform and prosperity are fleeting; just ask Lindsay Lohan and Haley Joel Osment how their once-enviable careers are continuing to flourish and satisfy. (They're not.) Whether we're seeking quantifiable value through bank account or job title or family-size, let's remember that we're already valuable, and it's qualities like faithfulness and forgiveness and self-sacrifice that are going to be what really changes the world.
Last week I listened to a fascinating and compelling Talks at Google presentation by Stephanie Gray, and I highly recommend it. But it's an hour long, so if you only have three minutes I want to draw attention to a U.N. document that Stephanie mentioned because I couldn't believe I haven't heard anyone talking about this.
In 1948 (three years post-holocaust), the United Nations put together a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It's very readable and I recommend viewing the whole thing. At the very beginning of the preamble, it says, "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."
Article 3 says "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."
The U.N. says human beings should have the right to live. I am certainly not advocating the U.N.'s every word as absolute truth and goodness, but these statements about the right for members of the human family are completely necessary since, historically, sometimes people get caught up in popular lies and start treating fellow human beings like they're less-than-human, just because of their ethnicity or religion or sexuality or...age.
This is where there's controversy where there should be none.
A human being is a human being who deserves the right to live, no matter how old they are.
Even if they're five weeks in-utero.
If you claim to care about human rights, you need to truly consider whether you believe in the human's right to live. Ms. Gray also made an excellent argument that that if two humans make a fetus, its species is obviously human. It's not alien or dolphin or cat or dog. It's a human. A member of the human family. A fellow human being who simply cannot speak up for himself or herself and needs time to grow. A human who should have the right to life, liberty, and security of person.
So, please, let's support moms who are in tough situations. My 5-year-old son recently worked his tail off doing extra chores to raise $10 to send to a pregnancy care center (his idea) because he fiercely believes that young humans should have the right to live, and that their moms should be well-cared-for. Let's talk positively about new life. Let's have real-life conversations about human dignity and inherent value. Because all people are valuable.
Feel free to read my related article But What About the Moms?
In November, I deactivated my Facebook and forgot my Instagram password. I knew these websites were changing me, but I really had no idea how much. Here are some ways I was surprised by what I've learned!
1) Eight months later, I'm quite literally still recovering from my Facebook addiction.
I have a fake Facebook account with zero friends---and an empty newsfeed---so that I can post on my blog page, and for some reason I still check it frequently. Even eight months after quitting, it's such a reflex to go on Safari, type in "fa", and click on the first suggested link. Sometimes I'll sneak onto my husband's Facebook and do as much clicking and scrolling as I can. It's terrifying, really, how lingering the effects of unbridled social media addiction can be.
2) Real healing for my mental health issues didn't start until I quit social media.
I hope to go more into detail later about my journey, but know this: it was really really bad, and over the last eight months it has gotten significantly better. I've gotten off the rollercoaster of emotions and found stability. I'm not going to say quitting social media was a savior for me. It was God who got me out of the pit. But there have been a LOT of factors contributing to my vastly-improved mental health since November: getting counseling from one of my pastors, deepening some friendships, simplifying my life, exercise, prayer, opening up to a close friend and confessing my sin to her...but I honestly don't know how many of those things I would've pursued if I was still distracted by Facebook. Instead of escaping from my issues by scrolling, comparing myself to others, or trying to display a certain identity, I just had to be brave and focus. I can't believe how much emotional healing has happened this year.
3) I can see the sadness and emptiness of the scrolling in others.
One of the reasons I quit was because I was at the car wash and overheard a news report that Americans are spending more time on social media than ever, but it's also become less enjoyable than ever. Sure 'nuff, every time I see three people on a bench all scrolling on their phones, they're not smiling. Their posture is slumped, they look bored, they look dissatisfied, they look like they've lost themselves. I hope our culture gets out of this mess soon.
4) I'm learning to be a friend, not a spectator.
Having no idea what's going on with my friends and acquaintances makes for better and deeper conversation. If I'm waiting to hear news from a friend, I'm going to have to ask her personally instead of waiting to see her public post about it. Chances are hefty that asking personally will provide more depth and relationship. I'm a participant, not an audience. It's really awkward to say, "I saw on Facebook you went on vacation last week!" "Yeah, it was fun!" "The pictures looked cool. I've always wanted to visit Colorado." And then the crickets chirp. But asking, "Hey, how've you been?" is probably going to cut the small talk and get into richer and more meaningful conversation.
5) Being disconnected from political tension is so incredibly amazing.
I quit social media in November 2016, which is the very best month I could've possibly quit, because obviously the political divisiveness of our country increased by at least a billion percent when President Trump was elected. But get off the internet, and you know what? You don't feel like you're in the Civil War anymore. In real life, people are still living their lives. I subscribe to The Atlantic and I'll read political blogs from The Gospel Coalition or the ERLC, so I'm still an informed citizen from multiple different perspectives, but my eyes are not inundated with hateful memes or whiny videos. I hate most things our president says and does, and I'm not a fan of what the right or the left are up to either. It's yucky time for America. But I'm convinced that loving my neighbor is a far better solution than stirring pots of controversy online and burning bridges.
6) It's easier to love people when I'm not so jealous of their lives...or when I'm not trying to make them jealous of mine.
Comparison is a trap, we all know this. I struggle with both sides of the spectrum: comparison feeds my insecurity and it feeds my pride. If I'm feeling discouraged about myself, I'll snack on thoughts such as "At least I'm a better mom than her..." or "The only reason she is so skinny is because she abandoned her more important priorities." And the reason I get so insecure in the first place is because I'm having thoughts like "She has more responsibilities than you and actually gets it all done. Your best isn't good enough, yo." Or "Her husband made a scavenger hunt for their anniversary...let's spend some time meditating on all the ways Peter is the least thoughtful man in the universe." None of those thoughts are helpful. Spending actual time with other women doesn't feed comparison nearly as much.
7) I've had to own up to my desire for attention.
I quickly realized I don't take as many pictures anymore. That's a bummer for posterity's sake, but it's also exposed a lot about my heart. If the world isn't going to see something, what's the point of even taking a picture or experiencing it? Tony Reinke wrote a fascinating article about how Instagram is shaping our vacations and our budgets: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/instagram-generation. Evaluating these things has made me really face the facts: I crave attention from others. Stepping out of the spotlight has helped me genuinely find contentment in being known by God. I'm no longer crafting a cute post in my mind; I'm just enjoying experiences as they come. It's incredible, folks.
8) I can quit something, but unless I fill it with something better, I'll just find a new addiction.
I learned this in seventh grade when I spent many hours each day on Neopets. I eventually realized this was controlling me, so I broke some proselytization rules on the message boards (it's okay, you can laugh at me) and I got my accounts frozen on purpose. But you know what? In no time at all I found alternatives to Neopets and just spent hours each day on those games.
Forsaking something isn't enough. You've got to fill those gaps in your heart with something better. Leaving Facebook and instagram still left me with this desire to be entertained when I start to feel bored, and YouTube greatly meets that need. I still need a huge heart change, but thankfully Jesus is an endless and welcoming source of joy.
So those are some observations. I would love to hear your feedback!
Here's the article I wrote as I quit social media: http://www.recoveringwomanhood.com/blog/9-ways-social-media-is-hurting-me
The next stop on our 2-week road trip was in Northeast Georgia to the breathtaking Tallulah Gorge. Even though we had to deal with rainy weather the whole time, I totally recommend this spot. Our kids really came alive with all the easy hikes, and we created some fantastic family memories spending so much time outside.
We stayed at the Tallulah Gorge State Park campground, which was quite cramped but boasted a lovely playground, and---best of all---the hiking and biking trails are easily accessible from the campsites! Here are just a few more pictures from hiking and biking around the park:
Also, the nearby town of Tiger had a very unusual free attraction accurately called Goats on the Roof, and I can't imagine how it could be more goats-oriented. It was the kind of tourist trap that made feel like they still had my best interests in mind.
They sell made-to-order nitro ice cream, which was a pretty fascinating process. I wasn't personally able to partake of the lactose-laden goodness, but my husband and kids said it was delicious.
The nearby town of Clayton also has a really cute, walkable downtown with some interesting shops. And we stumbled upon a weeknight traveling circus!
Oh my dear readers, this circus was everything I always dreamed old-fashioned circus would be. It was truly a family-run circus because every single performer looked alike and helped out with multiple different roles; the aerialist also did face painting; the hoop performer also sold popcorn. The circus opened with an 11-year-old family member performing an impressive balancing act. His 6-year-old sister, hands on her hips and dressed in a ballet costume, professionally solicited the crowd's applause whenever he did a trick. Their childhood is so different from that of most kids, but I think they were happy. Anyway, I could---and I did---write a whole essay on this experience but we're moving onward.
Oh, and here's a motherhood horror story: before the circus, my son had to go to the bathroom so I urgently warned him not to touch anything and sent him to the port-a-potty. When he was finished, he opened the door, grabbed a urinal cake from the port-a-potty urinal, and started rubbing his hands all over it! I abruptly stopped him, of course, and asked him "why in the world, dude!?", and he told me thought it was soap. There was nowhere to wash his hands, I was holding the baby and didn't have a diaper bag or anything with me (and Peter was elsewhere removing a splinter from Piper's hand), so we just prayed over his hands and begged God to protect us from disease. And He did. But that was nightmarishly gross.
If you want to hike down to the gorge floor, you need a permit and you have to be one of the first 100 people of the day to ask for one. The floor was closed when we were there, but we've heard amazing things (including that there's a natural rock waterslide, which is so cool!) so we hope to go back. Walking down a gazillion (620) steps to the bridge was still really beautiful though.
Oh, and there are some challenging mountain biking trails if you're into those! :) My husband is!
We found a really cool geocache while hiking! I loved how easy the trails were for our kids to manage. They even did all the steps!
My beautiful daughter who tends toward girly-girlness made mud lollipops, and that's just so important. Love it.
So check out Tallulah Gorge if you can. If you enjoy nature, you can spend several days there easily, even if it's rainy :)
Click here to read about Stop 1: Providence Canyon.
One time I, being the mature adult that I am, cried for two whole hours on the drive home from North Georgia. I didn't want to leave. It feels like a whole different world up there, and the mountain breeze and serenity of nature sweep me off my feet every single time.
For this trip, we stayed with family on their property, but we've stayed at AirBnb's all over and every single one has been a hit. You simply need to go.
If you’re going to Blue Ridge, there’s no way you can not visit Mercier Orchards. Whether you’re there in apple season, apple blossom season, or somewhere in between, you’re going to consume some amazing apple-related food and drinks.
They have a really yummy breakfast with an all-you-can-eat option (just say yes) and an overwhelmingly good-smelling bakery. The apple cider donuts, as you can expect, are joy encapsulated in a cinnamon-sugar-covered ring of dough. They also have a store with every amazing-sounding canned good and anything-else that you can imagine.
For me, though, the yummiest treat is the apple cider slushy. They have alcoholic versions too, if that’s your style.
Check their website because they have u-picks and various events going on throughout the year; we visited during a time when they were offering free Apple Blossom tours in which we got to ride behind a tractor and behold the most scenic farm I could ever imagine. The rolling hills were just outrageously cute.
Downtown Blue Ridge has a wide variety of shops and a really decent playground, which really matters when traveling with kids.
The great thing about the North Georgia mountains is you don’t need to have a bunch of destinations in mind; just find a nature-saturated place to stay and sit outside. I’m a very impatient and antsy person, but I don’t even know how many hours I must’ve spent rocking on a bench swing and listening to birds chirp while my kids ran around in the grass. I brought books and planned to read them, but I never did---and I don’t regret it---because there was a lot of learning I needed to do just by sitting and beholding.
Also, these flowers. What in the world.
Tips if you go:
-If you’re near Jasper on a Sunday, Mountain City Church in downtown Jasper is a warm and accommodating church family; visiting that church was one of the biggest highlights for me on one of our North Georgia trips.
-There are some really neat restaurants in the nearby small towns; here are my recommendations:
Ball Ground - Burger Bus (you literally sit in a remodeled schoolbus to eat your burger; this picture is from October)
Jasper - Coach’s (extremely yum hoagies with some deliciously greasy fried side items)
Jasper - Dos Margaritas (really gaood Mexican restaurant)
Other people have recommended a ton of other places nearby, so check them out!
This isn’t technically North Georgia, but I have to share this anecdote because it was so humbling. Before we went to Georgia, I knew that my Pappaw really wanted to visit a particular church with a high-profile pastor, and I knew that the church building had an escalator in it. My Pappaw is a godly man with good taste in preaching, but in my pride I was confident that nothing good could come from an escalator-church. I made plans to avoid going to that Saturday night service and almost cried when I found out I’d have to go anyway. “Ugh, the last thing I want to experience is a flashy light show and a broadly-appealing message that barely even touches the Bible,” I thought to myself in super-spiritual disgust.
We took a seat in the enormous auditorium and I was instantly surprised by the simplicity of the stage and the lack of showiness on behalf of the singing ensemble. The lyrics to the songs were solid and gripping, every single one of them. And when this famous high-profile pastor went up to preach, he spoke with so much grace, humility, and Jesus-centeredness that it took me about thirty seconds to realize I had been completely wrong about this place. I honestly don’t know if I’ve heard a sermon packed with so much scripture from so many different angles. It was amazing. I tend to believe that if something is popular, it’s bad, but this pastor was popular just because a lot of people in the area want to learn about the Bible. I learned so much from the escalator church.
So, in conclusion, North Georgia is gorgeous, listening to nature is birds tweet is productive, churches with escalators can be awesome, and pride is always the wrong way to live. Happy adventuring!
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a rad guy, and raising three little people ages 1,3, and 5...and I'm now expecting my fourth. I like chartreuse, calligraphy, Coke Icees, childbirth, crocs, Studio C, and...alliteration.
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today