A few weeks ago, my dear friend Penny and I had the opportunity to see one of our favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, speak. Glennon is a truth teller and hope spreader, with a delightful wit and a spiritual gift of bringing graceful and peaceful (or simply hilarious) words to any situation. I started following Glennon several years ago, when her "Don't Carpe Diem" post went viral. Her words cut straight to my heart and I quickly proceeded to read every word she had written and become a part of the Momastery community. Instantly, I knew I had found my tribe. The women who follow Momastery are kind, gracious and accepting. They have a heart for the world. . ."there is no such thing as other people's children" and "sister on" are the kind of battle cries you find there. They don't sugar-coat the brutiful nature of life, but they choose to be grateful and embrace laughter over complaint. And they lift their sisters up both in words and deeds, such as through togetHERrising. To be in a room full of "Monkees" with my dear sister in Christ, Penny, was an unforgettable experience. With light slanting in the gorgeous stained glass windows and the laughter and tears of women who just "get it" raising up to the rafters, it was pure Love, Spirit and Grace. Glennon said so many amazing things, but one of her final thoughts that came from an audience question has really stayed with me.
A young woman a few pews away from us stood up and took the microphone. She asked Glennon how we should approach social media. There are so many good things (like Momastery!) and so many negative things, especially in this very political year. How do we use it the right way?
"Wow!" I turned to Penny. "That was a great question." We all hung expectantly waiting for Glennon's answer. In typical G fashion it was brilliant and helped give us clarity. She discussed how social media is a real world for us, we live our lives there. . .people fall in love, make friends, laugh, cry and all of the things we do face-to-face. But we have to be smart about how we use it, as social media shapes our reality. I wrote down these words of wisdom she shared at the end.
"Choose who you follow on social media intentionally. That is who you give power to."
"You form your thoughts by who you follow. Who do you want to be? Arrange your social media news feed to reflect that."
"We will always be what we consume, be intentional and choose wisely."
How beautifully she articulates and confirms the things we have all suspected to be true. My reality is very much shaped by the media I consume. When the kids were very little when someone asked me if I had heard about (insert globally significant current event here), I would ask, "Um, was that on Sesame Street?" because if it wasn't, I was pretty sure I hadn't seen it or heard it. I lived in a bubble of DVR'ed episodes of Mister Rogers, Word World, Ellen and Sesame Street. This was before I had a Facebook account, and now I am a little embarrassed to admit I really do get most of my news from Facebook. (I'm pretty sure I am not the only one, though!)
Since social media is my reality, I have to be careful about how I spend my time there. As my television friend Mister Rogers says, "Do you ever grow ideas in the garden of your mind?" My head is a precious place, and I have to be careful about what I plant there, right? The internet is full of weeds (COMMENTS SECTIONS, anyone???), and also full of seemingly delightful things that can take over if we let them. I remember my neighbor Jo Ann telling me over the fence when I was quite new to gardening to plant my mint in a separate pot or it would take over everything else in my garden. I think the same kind of principle can be true of our internet lives. Even things that seem good and entertaining can choke out the other good things growing there if we let them. FOR EXAMPLE. . .following the local news SEEMED like a good idea. Until I ended up so heavy with the weight of the sadness in our city that I would end up angry and depressed with the articles popping up in my feed every three stories. I decided to unfollow the local news and instead just follow trusted friends who follow the local news, so they could alert me to the important stuff. Only you know your mind and what you can plant there!
It was delightful one day when a friend introduced me to the "unfollow" button. I had no idea that this existed, and it is incredibly useful for the people who try to plant weeds in your mind, but you still love them and don't want to unfriend them. Unfollowing is like, "We're still cool if I saw you face to face, but I can't let you in my head every single time I get on the interwebs. Not happening." If you tend to carry the weight of other's problems like I do, unfollow can be a powerful tool for helping manage the load. If there is someone I haven't seen since 1994 and they enjoy using social media to vent about everything under the sun, you had better believe we are moving our friendship to unfollow status. Other people may be able to brush it off easily, but I am too susceptible to letting other people's problems take up precious head space.
The other thing Glennon urged us to consider is who we DO follow, as in following the people who live lives that we admire, who call us to be our best, who reflect our hearts. I am fortunate to have a lot of those friends. I love encouragers, and we all need more of them both virtually and in our real life. Don't you just love those people who just make you smile every time you get on facebook?? And it is helpful to follow people with views different from our own. . .they expand our perspectives! So I don't instantly unfollow anyone who votes differently than I do or eats differently or spends differently or lives differently or whatever. I look, I watch, I listen, I learn. That's what being human is all about!! But if someone constantly uses an attacking, negative, hurtful, or complaining tone, I need to make the same kind of decision about them that I make about people in my real life- If I know someone like that, we're not going out for coffee or sitting at the same lunch table, OK!? We're just going to be on, "I'll say hi to you when I run into you in the grocery store" status, and maybe I'm not even stopping. We can't let those toxic peeps in our personal space on social media, either.
Since I'm seeing more how media shapes our reality and Glennon's words are so fresh in my mind, I am going to take a few days off of Facebook to really contemplate them. I've been really upset recently about some things that have been going around in our community and in our nation. Since Facebook is shaping my perspective of the humans around me, I feel like the world is angry at each other- everyone from my friends to our local and national leaders and POLITICS- UGH!!! - and my heart hurts. It just hurts. And then my mind just starts spinning and I'm sad. I was worrying over this in my kitchen last night when Paul came home.
"What's wrong, Jen?" he asked, as I forlornly dropped sun dried tomatoes on some pizza.
The kids were arguing in the basement and my mind was spinning with something angry someone had just written to a friend of mine on social media and I was just so. . . SAD. I wanted to fix it all and I couldn't.
"Honey, I just want peace on earth. I want peace in my home and in our town and in our world. How do I get that??? I'm just so heartbroken."
"Jen," he said. "Start here."
And he yelled down the basement stairs, "HEY YOU GUYS!!! BE KIND TO EACH OTHER!!!"
And we laughed.
I need to start here. Peace starts here. Just like Mother Teresa said. . .it begins at home. I need to immerse myself in my surroundings to get a more real perspective, and do some serious reflecting on who I follow and read on social media. . .who do I give power to? Who do I let live in my head? I hope after I do this, I am able to come back with a more fresh and healthy perspective of the good in the world. I know Facebook will go on without me for a few days, as much as I like to imagine that everyone NEEDS me to like all of their pictures. . .their pictures are super cute and lots of other people will like them in my absence. LIFE WILL GO ON WITHOUT YOU, Jen. Step back. Plant your mint in a separate pot before it takes over.
St. Patrick's Day is a special day for my family. My Irish grandma, Darlin, loved St. Pat's and we always celebrated with green carnations to pin on our shirts, yummy food, stickers, cards and all things sweet and Irish. Paul loves it, too, and from before we were even married and up until I was pregnant with the third Zink boy, we hosted an annual bash at our basement bar. So many fun times were had, and I have two rubbermaid tubs full of St. Patrick's Day paraphernalia in my garage (and lots of incriminating photos of our friends tucked away for when we are old and gray) to prove it.
After we moved into our new home, one of our first goals was to build a bar just like we had at our Irvington bungalow. We optimistically brought the 4 barstools with us, boxes of glassware, beer signs, kitschy decorations, the whole deal so we could recreate the experience. Then we realized that we have a lot of kids, and we're doing good most days just feeding them and giving them baths and keeping them in clean clothes and let's face it. . .alive. So, we had to set the bar for our bar a little lower. After four years of sitting in our basement just waiting for a bar to be built, we finally had the realism and common sense to move the barstools to our garage so our kids had more room to play Lego. Someday, those barstools will party again. Maybe not with us. . .maybe at a frat house at Purdue or something. . .but someday. For now, they hold our car mats and we use them to climb up and get high stuff. Whatever.
Even with the demise of the Zink bar, we still loved St. Patrick's Day. One year on March 16, as I geared up to get out all of the decor (still in the boxes) and Lucky Charms and green outfits after the kiddos went to bed, I had some disturbing things happen.
First, Phil came home from preschool COMPLETELY JAZZED and asked if a leprechaun was going to come to our house like the leprechaun that came to visit them at school. Um, what?? That's a thing?? My world of what I thought St. Patrick's Day was (drinking delicious beer and wearing green shirts) was shattered by the fact that in some parts of our culture, the celebration of this holiday involves imaginary visitors that I need to fabricate and then incorporate into my web of lies.
"Um, guys, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?" I said, totally floored by this new information.
"Mommy, all we have to do is leave him a note! He'll come to our house and mess stuff up and leave us treats!"
I looked around my house. It already looked like multiple leprechauns lived there, along with perhaps a treeful of Keebler elves. The last think I needed was some damn leprechaun coming in and jacking up my already beautiful mess. There was flour all over my kitchen counter, the floors were filthy, breakfast and baking dishes piled in the sink, sticky bowls and spoons on the counter, the bathroom was trashed, the rug was littered with toys, and I still had snack, another meal and baths left to go before closing time.
In order to process this information, I did what all good moms do, which is turn on PBS kids and go in the other room to figure things out ALONE. With my phone. And some caffeine. Sometimes when I am just mentally lost, I zone out and get on Facebook. You guys, this is the most horrible of horrible ideas. When am I going to learn? Guaranteed if you are feeling confused or down on yourself and you get on Facebook, the first thing you are going to see is people living beautiful sparkly lives who share none of your struggles and being flat out awesome in your face. I have a generally healthy self concept, so I can normally handle people's highlight reels without any personal toll but this was not a good day for scrolling.
Of course, the first thing I saw when I got on Facebook was the beautiful and precious St. Paddy's crafts that my friend had prepared, and pictures of the green toilet water and funny things their leprechaun had done to them (like put flour all over the kitchen!) while the kids were napping. I looked around my house again. . .hey, my leprechaun spread flour all over the counter, too! And is yellow toilet water kind of like green toilet water? Kind of like a pot of gold?? I started to laugh. There is no need to compare myself to that awesome mom. I've got my own beautiful kind of St. Patrick's Day right here. I quickly came up with a plan B before Super Why was over, excited to put it into action before the morning.
We made it through the rest of the day, making mess upon mess, and the boys left Shaun the Leprechaun a little note before Paul and I tucked their sparkly clean and p.j.'ed up little bodies into bed and kissed those squishy cheeks.
"Jen," Paul said as we entered the kitchen. "The house is trashed."
"I KNOW!" I said. "I have a plan. Trust me."
Now, I'm not sure if after all of the years Paul has been the sidekick to my plans if he REALLY trusts me or not, but he went along with it anyways. Good husband.
"Get down the decorations, honey. We've got a new kind of leprechaun up in here."
For the next two hours, I cleaned the house while Paul vacuumed and decorated with all of the fun accessories from our party days. The flour spills were erased, counters were buffed to a sparkly shine, toilet cleaned, floors mopped and even some dusting with ACTUAL PLEDGE might have occurred. I wrote the kids a note from Shaun the Leprechaun, explaining to them what just went down.
Philip, Daniel, and Josh,
got your letter! Thanks for helping cleaning up your house before I
arrived tonight. I wanted to answer your question, Daniel. . .yes, I
can act like a stinker sometimes. A real stinkpot, as you say. All
of us leprechauns do. But to be sure, the very same leprechauns who
are bad sometimes are the very same leprechauns who are good
sometimes. So, tonight, I took an idea from my cousins the elves.
Do you know the ones? The little guys who helped the shoemaker and
his wife? Well, I know your Mommy and Daddy work really hard. And
that your mommy has been busy playing with you in the sunshine all
week. . .so that means she didn't have a lot of time to clean up all
of the sand and dirt and messes! So, tonight while you were
sleeping, I cleaned it all up for you and your mommy and daddy. .
.right down to the toilet! I even put up some decorations. I hope
you like them! I also hope you like the pot of gold that I left for
you. Enjoy and be good boys. . . and just remember even us stinkers
have good deep down inside!
friend Shaun the Leprechaun.
They woke up in the morning elated. TREATS!! They were a little confused as to why their Leprechaun cleaned instead of made mischief, but all I am saying is you need to set your own bar.
You hear that?
I don't like to toss out advice but this is one thing I am pretty sure of.
Set your OWN BAR.
So, this St. Patrick's Day, wear green or don't.
Drink Beer. Or don't.
Do fun crafts. Or don't.
Have a leprechaun that comes. Or don't.
But whatever you do, do you!! Only you can be yourself! Have fun!