Families, Children & Marriage, Technology

Beyond selfies: Using Instagram to tell whole-hearted stories

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 11.06.29 PMWe flew down the freeways to the beach for a quick dip and some kite-flying. I almost didn’t go – it’s such a hassle to load everything in the van and deal with the aftermath of the sand covered bodies. But when 4 o’clock arrived and we were starting to bicker and still wearing our pajamas, it seemed like a better idea to escape the sweltering-house-with-the-broken-AC and make the trek to the shore. We picked up Chipotle on the way and schlepped our beach gear to the waterfront. We flew kites, chased the waves, and cuddled close as we watched the sun set.

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 7.19.52 AM

It was one of my good-mothering moments, the kind I feel confident documenting with photos and sentimental goobly-gob. I’d pushed through my resistance and come out on the other side in parenting bliss. I’d remembered to pause and savor the sweetness of the moments one-at-a-time.

The day before that, however, was not quite so picture worthy. I’d grumped at the kids for their deficiencies, snapped at the little things, and tried to hide from them/eat chocolate in the bathroom at least three different times throughout the day. You can bet there were no Instagram postings that day!

As a culture that places high value on storytelling, I often wonder how the stories we tell reflect our overarching values. Certainly perfection, glamour, and adventure dominate the vast majority of the motives behind how many present their lives. But what gets lost when we hide mundane moments like when we’re stuck in bed with a cold, mildly depressed, and too worn-out to wash the piling dishes? Where’s the place to remember the late-night conversations about insecurities or worries or dreams? Who do we become when we photoshop blemishes out of our lives?

As a mama who loves writing, photography, and technology, I’ve grown increasingly reflective on how I use these venues for my own growth and reflection. Rather than allowing technology to control me, I’m aiming toward practicing a mindful approach to technology that is both whole-hearted and wise. As I work out how my interaction with technology shapes my soul, one of the most enjoyable practices I’ve developed is using Instagram as means to remind myself of these desires. I love finding ways to weave my faith into all parts of my life, and integrating it with my technology use is just one more way to do this. To clarify, I don’t mean I quote a Bible verse or throw #praiseJesus onto my posts, but I do try to recognize where the meaningful exists as I document days. Here are a few ways I do this:

  1. Document gratefulness. I learned this practice first from Ann Voskamp’s book Ten Thousand Gifts in which she keeps a running list of things she’s grateful for. I tried making a list and lost it before I got to #25. At this point, I thought to myself, “I love photography. I have a phone that I don’t lose. Why don’t I just take pictures?” And voila! Instagram became my unspoken “gratefulness list”. I don’t always explicitly state gratefulness for the object of a photo, but documenting small moments of gratitude in my heart sets a tone for the larger moments.
The day that was brightened immensely by the kitten showing up in my classroom
The day that was brightened immensely by the kitten showing up in my classroom
(I admit that many of these such 'gratitude posts' revolve around food!)
(I admit that many of these such ‘gratitude posts’ revolve around food!)
And occasionally comfy shoes :)
And occasionally comfy shoes 🙂

2. Remember the emotion. My days are jam-packed with all sorts of emotions. While it’s prudent to not overshare, sometimes it’s nice to acknowledge that emotions do exist. Finding symbols that evoke my emotion allows me to share the pieces of myself that are trickier to photograph physically.

coffee cup
“This coffee cup holds such sentimentality for me. I was a young mother, slow to the game of parenting, not at all sure of what I had gotten myself into. We were at an aquarium, marveling at one of these amazing leafy Sea dragons, my little one in my arms when my heart first woke to the beauty of motherhood. Her wonder at the sea overwhelmed me, melting a heart held stoic for far too long. It was in that moment that I awoke to the remarkable journey this mama thing would be – the wonder, the sacrifice, the discovery, the confusion, the hope, the fear, the frustration, the beauty – all priceless gifts of guiding precious little lives toward wholeness.”
Playing chess with my son, and he rearranged the pieces like this. "it's more like our family," he says. #interraciallove #proudmama
Playing chess with my son, and he rearranged the pieces like this. “it’s more like our family,” he says. #interraciallove #proudmama

3. Behold the wonder in the mundane. There’s nothing like pausing to consider the wonder in the ordinary days. When I catch glimpses of such moments, I like to capture them to remind myself to remember the value of the small things.

The day hubby picked me flowers from our backyard because he thought they were "happy"
The day hubby picked me flowers from our backyard because he thought they were “happy”
This place. #speaksmylanguage #whimsy #wonder
This place. #speaksmylanguage #whimsy #wonder
"Raspberries don't last too long in our house!!! #almostgone"
“Raspberries don’t last too long in our house!!! #almostgone”
Cheeseballs requested for the par-tay. I haven't tasted these things for almost 3 decades!! Reminds me of my Grandpa Charlie 😊
Cheeseballs requested for the par-tay. I haven’t tasted these things for almost 3 decades!! Reminds me of my Grandpa Charlie 😊
Smells of home...
Smells of my Grandma’s lilac bush from home…

4. Enjoy a little chuckle. There’s nothing like laughing to remind us of life’s joys…capturing the giggles that cross my path help me appreciate them even more!

Relic from my hometown museum #smalltownlife
Relic from my hometown museum #smalltownlife
chicken butt
LA food adventures
Sign from a book sale
Sign from a local book sale
Me, as a My Little Pony, drawn by a student who *should have been* paying attention but clearly wasn't!
Me, as a My Little Pony, drawn by a student who *should have been* paying attention but clearly wasn’t!

5. Savor quiet space. I love to remember the peaceful spaces I find. Wherever it is, when I stop to savor it’s beauty, I remember its peace in my heart years later.

tree
A luscious tree in Pittsburgh where I paused to pray and appreciate the green.
Sabbath
Relishing Sabbath at the beach on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
Breathing in a rooftop view in the city at sunset
Breathing in a rooftop view in the city at sunset
Hiking through some woods on the top of a mountain. "It's just like Narnia!" my kids shouted.
Hiking through some woods on the top of a mountain. “It’s just like Narnia!” my kids shouted.

6. Celebrate goodness. The news is full of so many tragedies that I find myself preserving stories and words that inspire. It helps me focus on what is also good in the world.

When your nine-year-old son draws a picture of you and writes this: "My mom's name is Jody Fernando. She is an amazing parent. She likes going on long walks in our neighborhood, she likes to drink coffee, and play board games. But her favorite thing to do is travel to places all over the world! However, she does not like to take care of screaming babies and being very cold! She makes me laugh when she makes up jokes. She is a good mom because she helps me in hard times. Most of all, I love her because she is fun to be around. I am lucky to have such a special mom. She is the BEST."
When your nine-year-old son draws a picture of you and writes this: “My mom’s name is Jody. She is an amazing parent. She likes going on long walks in our neighborhood, she likes to drink coffee, and play board games. But her favorite thing to do is travel to places all over the world! However, she does not like to take care of screaming babies and being very cold! She makes me laugh when she makes up jokes. She is a good mom because she helps me in hard times. Most of all, I love her because she is fun to be around. I am lucky to have such a special mom. She is the BEST.”
#priorities
#priorities
Teared up at this ad from the @pdsoros foundation about new Americans who are recent grads and poised to make significant contributions to society. I couldn't help but think of the many immigrant parents I know who have sacrificed their careers, lives, and comfort for the successes and growth of their children #immigrantstrong
Teared up at this ad from the @pdsoros foundation about new Americans who are recent grads and poised to make significant contributions to society. I couldn’t help but think of the many immigrant parents I know who have sacrificed their careers, lives, and comfort for the successes and growth of their children #immigrantstrong

women

Reminders from museums that things DO change, even they are slow going!
Relics from museums that show that times DO change, even they are slow going at times!

To be clear, I don’t ever actually state that this is what I’m doing on my actual Instagram account. I just do it. However, when I have moments to pause and reflect, I find myself scrolling back through my posts, grinning and grateful for the richness of the stories they tell.

swirl

Have you found effective ways to integrate your faith with your technology use? I’d love to hear more in the comments below!

  • For an outstanding podcast on cultivating a more thoughtful use of technology, check out the Note to Self podcast.
Spiritual Formation

The difference between oak trees and freeways

It was a simple statement, created in the moment by one of my Syrian students attempting to form a dependent phrase, but it stopped us all in our tracks. Everyone else in the class (teacher included!) had created much lazier sentences:

  • “When I’m bored, I watch TV.”
  • “When I’m bored, I go to sleep.”
  • “When I’m bored, I use the computer.”

But none of us had considered offering this depth of insight when tackling grammatical structures in English sentences: “When I’m bored, I ask my heart what it needs.” The simple phrasing of his words lingered with me. How often do I ignore what my heart needs by calling it boredom?  I wondered silently, the teacher-in-me suddenly becoming a student.

These students.  Though they may use broken words at times, they have so much wisdom to share.  Perhaps we’d all be a little better off asking what our heart needs before we speak flippantly about our moods.

swirl

I spent some time recently chatting with a group of women about what makes us flourish, what makes us feel most alive in the midst of the flurry of jobs and families and ambitions and responsibilities. We had lots of great ideas from the superficial and fun like pedicures and ice cream to the rich and meaningful like chats-with-friends over coffee and quiet-time-away-from-it-all to restore our souls.  Some of us cried. All of us laughed. A few of us ached. Others of us shared grateful moments of fulfillment.

I shed a few tears over some breaking dreams and a friend reached to hold my hand. I squeezed back tight. Sometimes in the midst of falling apart, presence speaks so much louder than words.

What I heard most frequently expressed among these women was the same exact sentiment my student had just expressed that very morning: ask your heart what it needs.

Reflect.

Slow down.

Ponder.

Be a friend.

Read a book.

Watch a silly TV show.

Take a walk.

Listen.

Notice.

Contrary to the story of the freeways, we are not meant to live at break-neck speed every minute of the day. Unless we build barriers around and stoplights into our lives, we might hurtle ourselves right over the edge without even noticing.

Though we’d much prefer to speed right through them, even dark and barren days hold deep value for our souls, for what is day without night or a field without fallowness? For our roots to grow deep, we must attend to all the realities of life, not just the easiest ones.

swirl

While much in our current culture facilitates a shallow and superficial path, we must dig deeper if we believe faith is more than mere entertainment. “Remind me each day that the race is not always to the swift; that there is more to life than increasing its speed,” writes Orin Crain. “Let me look upward into the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.”

It’s a bit like asking my soul not what it wants – things to numb or entertain or distract it – but simply what it needs and then working those very things into the daily mundane. 

Sometimes it’s the quiet of a walk in the early hours of the morning with a friend or the steady beauty of the mountains at sunset. It can be a slow cup of coffee with my husband, cuddles on the couch with my kids or the hand of a friend reaching out. Sometimes it is letting the tears fall while other times it is letting laughter carve my wrinkles deep.

In his accidental eloquence, my student had captured a truth that we fluent speakers so frequently stumble over: paying attention to our souls gives us life. Living slowly and well shapes our days into flourishing and full lives that paint a backdrop of strength to those living in our shade.

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Spiritual Formation

Dreams, readjusted.

I’m in the midst of some dream readjusting right now, and my mind wandered back to this post I wrote several years ago.  I had a nice little chuckle at myself because even though I now live in a ‘cool place’ and actually work with some refugees, I’m still facing the realities of readjusting dreams.  Since my time to write has been a bit limited recently, I thought it would be an appropriate throwback post to share for all the other dream readjusters out there.

If I had my druthers, I would have picked a really cool place to live – you know, like New York City, Seattle, or at least Chicago.  Then, when I met people from my past and they asked where I lived, I could suavely reply, “New York,” to be inevitably met by an impressive, “Wow.”

I also would have picked a really cool job – like resettling refugees, working in a soup kitchen, being an artist, or something a bit ‘edgy’ like that.  Then, when I met new people and they asked what I did, I could respond (with all humility, of course), “Oh, I work in a homeless shelter,” to be met by an even bigger “Wow.”

Then, surely I would be able to saunter down the street in my funky attire and be known as someone who ‘does something worthwhile’.  I also am a bit partial to being known as ‘one tough cookie’, but that doesn’t sound nearly as humble.

But, alas, the plan didn’t work.

I live in rural Indiana, drive my kids around in a mini-van, and teach part time at a Christian college – none of which have ever made my ‘cool’ list.  I used to live in Washington,, DC, where my husband and I enjoyed spending warm afternoons on the National Mall or hiking around the Potomac River.  When I first moved to Indiana, I desperately missed the ‘coolness’ factor of being able to tell far away friends that I’d walked by the White House or attended a peaceful protest/prayer walk past the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Capital Building.  I mean, it doesn’t pack near the punch to say that you drove by a barn/tractor/cornfield or attended a hymn sing at church on Sunday night.  While cornfields in early summer are indeed a sight to behold, they simply lack the impressive aura of the Atlantic coast or the inspiring beauty of the Smokey Mountains.

Everything here is just quieter.

Instead of car horns and sirens, there are birdsongs and rustling branches.  Our only version of a traffic jam is getting stuck behind a tractor on a country road, and stop signs are relevant only when a police car is present (because there are rarely other cars at intersections).  If you don’t count my neighbor who tests the engine on his race car every day in the summer, life around here is a gentle conversation between two old ladies on a front porch.

I don’t mean to insinuate anything about the folks who actually live in these places or do my definition of ‘cool’ things.  I know many of them, and the ones who have settled into these vocations maintain a humility and passion that extends far beyond my egotistical motivations to do such work.  It’s more about the gap between my own expectations of what meaningful life would look like, and what meaningful life actually is.

My evangelical brothers and sisters would speak of the grace and truth of Christ as the most meaningful component of their lives.  My liturgical brothers and sisters would highlight the mystery and majesty of God.  My charismatic siblings would claim joy and redemption.  I’m glad they’re all spot-on in their own ways, but also like to think the tangible ways meaning shows up, especially on a day like today (MLK day).

  • Brave people – this week highlighted several of them for me.  First, 37-year-old father, husband, brother, friend, actor lost his 3 month battle with an aggressive form of colon cancer this week.  His friends gathered round to hold him up while he walked toward the world where dying is no more.  Second, some friends of friends who are missionaries in Haiti.  In the midst of surreal tragedy, a mother packed up five of her 7 children and sent them to safety in the States while she stayed to start clinics for the injured.  And that’s not even to mention Martin Luther King Jr. and the faithful who carry his dream forward.
  • Listening people – With my husband in his second year of a PhD program, this is our “long year” where we’re tying a bunch of knots and holding on for dear life.  Over some tasty burritos last night, our weary souls were soothed by the listening ears and compassionate hearts of dear friends.
  • Veiled beauty – even in spite of fog smothering our area for four days straight, I caught glimpse of a beautiful tree while driving home the other day.  I wanted to take a picture, but didn’t, and the image has lingered in my mind since.  Thankfully, lots of other people think things like this are pretty too, and I found some great photos online just like the scene I saw.  Somehow, it reminds me of the aforementioned Brave People.
  • Quietness – being a holiday, the kids and I are off and home relaxing.  The kids are busy imagining some great quest, and in my own little quiet space, I’m grateful to ponder everyone else’s great quests, including my own, unexpected as it may be.  Sometimes, even though they can grow a bit repetitive, the quietness of these cornfields is terribly good for my soul.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!  But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (The Message)

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Belief

What comes after the bend-til-you-break days

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
Romans 5:3-4
 

When my nieces were little, I once watched from the corner as scheming-older-sister tormented innocent-baby-sister when Mom wasn’t looking. Older-sister would lean hard on baby-sister’s back, bending her little body in two, forcing her forehead as close to the ground as she could get. Baby-sister fought back fiercely – I watched her little face turn red in silent effort to withstand her sister’s pressure – until her nose was barely an inch from the ground and she let out a shriek that made big-sister relent and quickly attempted to tell angry-mom that she hadn’t “do-ed anything” to make baby-sister cry.

I spent most of my twenties feeling a lot like baby-sister. They were a decade when I learned the harsh reality of theory-meeting-practice, and the times in life Paul refers to as ‘suffering’. There was a lot of fierce and silent enduring, being bent in half until I just couldn’t take it anymore and let out a shriek to the sky, hoping someone would come to my rescue.

As I approach my 40s, I’m starting to see the benefits that the fierce bending of my 20s forged. I remember reading Romans 3 as though it were a linear process with a definite end point – suffering formed endurance which created character which turned into hope. At the time, I estimated I was firmly rooted in the suffering stage. Over the course of a few years, I noticed that the ‘suffering’ seemed to be subsiding and life seemed to require more endurance.

Aha! I thought. I’ve moved to the next step. Suffering: check.  Good thing I’m done with that. On to endurance!

Predictably, endurance showed up as a main act in my life. My early thirties brought stubborn toddlers, a husband entrenched in a PhD program, and an isolated life in the middle of a cornfield that was exactly the opposite of everything I had ever dreamt for myself. Every day required the drudge of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other. Endurance became my tried and true friend.

In spite of this drudging-reality, many pieces of life were rich and good. Though they threw temper tantrums and reeked havoc on my value of a good night’s sleep, I loved my toddlers in a way I had never loved before. Though my husband both worked and studied full time, he remained a faithful friend and loving father. Though I struggled to walk a different way in a world of sameness, slowly, I found my voice. Though the cornfields often felt silent and empty, my soul reaped the benefits of living in a world without much noise. While the suffering of my twenties had quieted, endurance sang its steady song.

As I walked alongside endurance, I learned some helpful life-skills like ignoring the Jones, practicing the spiritual disciplines, and living my own story faithfully. A square peg in a round hole, I found ample opportunity to practice both kindness toward others and compassion with myself. I didn’t always make it to either one of those goals, but I did get plenty of practice. Eventually, I completely gave up trying to fit in, pierced my nose and leaned hard on endurance to help me seek out the other tender-hearted souls who lived in the margins as well. Sometimes, I wondered if the enduring years would ever end.

To my great surprise, they did. I find myself now in a place where there’s space for someone-like-me. I have friends. My work is meaningful and life giving. I delight in my children and thoroughly enjoy my role as their mother. My husband and I sit on our front porch, drink coffee, and chat again like old friends while the kids ride their scooters down the street to the neighbor’s house. No one looks at us like we’re aliens anymore – we blend in just fine. Our community is growing, and daily life feels rich and meaningful and connected. I am happy – perhaps the happiest I’ve ever been in my adult life.

I’d be foolish, however, to somehow assume that happiness equates the-next-Romans-step of character. The happiness is merely a gift-for-the-day – one that I treasure mightily – but one that also has the potential of slipping through my fingers at any given moment. The gift-for-the-lifetime is the character that has been growing beneath it all through the suffering-and-enduring years.

I feel it sometimes, like when I walk down the street and breathe in the mountains, the palm trees and the blue skies, grateful for both the moment-at-hand and all the moments that have been and will be, suffering, enduring and all. I feel it when I want to throw an all-out-internal-temper-tantrum but instead pause and pray simply, Lord, have mercy – on me and all the other crazies out there. I feel it when the day doesn’t go my way and I retreat silently in the evening to rest and refocus rather than sulk and pout. I feel it when my hips round and my body ages and I know there is more to life than bikini worthy figures and wrinkle free faces. I feel it when the character growing slowly within starts to feel a whole lot like hope.

It’s not all perfect, but it’s changing one slow day at a time. I used to think life was a straight slant upward – once I learned one thing, it would be done for good and time to move onto the next. I now know it’s more like a spiral where we hit the same vertical points that tell the same stories time and again, but at different levels with new skills and deeper levels of maturity and faith. The gift of the Romans 5 spiral of suffer-endure-character-hope is that as it repeats itself in my life, each time carries a bit more faith, hope and love than the one before.

Culture & Race

Words that changed my world

Bronwyn Lea is hosting a series called, “Words that changed my world” where I’m guest posting today about a small conversation years ago that opened a whole new world to me.  Come read about the words that changed my world at Bronlea.com! Here’s a little glimpse:

“You don’t have to think about the issue of race,” she said to me point-blank.

I was taken aback, “Yes, I do. It’s really important to me to understand,” I tried to half-convince, half-explain.

“But you don’t have to,” she persisted. “I can’t ever take my skin off. It comes with me everywhere I go. You don’t have to think about yours if you don’t want to. I don’t have a choice.”