Monday, December 16, 2013

Fear of Missing Out

Today a friend introduced me to a new acronym: FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out. I googled it, and much to my surprise, I found it as an entry not only in the Urban Dictionary, but also in Wikipedia.

Let's just go straight to Wikipedia for the goods:
Fear of missing out or FOMO is a form of social anxiety — a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying event. This is especially associated with modern technologies such as mobile phones and social networking services.

A study by Andrew Przybylski found that the condition was most common in those who had unsatisfied psychological needs such as wanting to be loved and respected. The condition is also associated with social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, which provide constant opportunity for comparison of one's status.
The timing couldn't have been better. Just last night my husband, daughter, and I were discussing all of the weddings that have taken place so far this year among people we know and yet we have only been invited to one of them. We certainly didn't expect to get an invitation to them all, but only one?

Not an hour later, I got on Facebook and there was posted a photo of a friend and her entire family at their 18th wedding of the year. Yes, 18th. It took me about 2.7 milliseconds to feel that familiar twinge.

I don't know if anybody else ever feels this way (please let me know if you do), but sometimes I think I must have stopped developing emotionally and socially in about third grade, because to a certain extent being left out still hurts. I say "still" because I have a long experience with the phenomenon.

I was never exactly Miss Popularity and I have had to realize that is OK . . . most of the time. Several years ago when I was lamenting being on the non-receiving end of a social invitation my husband very lovingly said, "Honey, you've never been popular before. What makes you think you would start now?" Yeah, well, he had a point.

My husband tries to look on the bright side. After all, he reasons, if you are going to be near the edge of the circle, it is better to be just outside than just inside. It certainly saves you money and time, after all. I guess . . . but still I find it hard sometimes and I suppose The Double-Edged Sword That Is Facebook is partly to blame.

I mean, before Facebook, all sorts of things could happen and you would never know what you were missing. You might catch wind of a wedding or a party but you wouldn't have a clue as to what it was you actually missed.

Enter Facebook. photos come rolling in, giving those outside the circle of invitation an emotionally painful voyeuristic view of the good time they didn't have. And if those photos are indeed coming in as they happen, thanks to iPhones and Instagram, then you are seeing friends and acquaintances having a jolly old time while you sit on your couch with your bowl of cereal and patrol Facebook for the little green dots that indicate there might be somebody online to talk to.

Longing to belong is quite natural, I think. But longing to belong can be terribly destructive, if not to anybody else, at least to yourself. C.S. Lewis talks about the concept of the Inner Ring (a place I have clearly never been) and concludes, "The quest of the Inner Ring will break your heart unless you break it."

Yes, the quest must be broken. Even when I'm brought face to face with what I've missed. And if the truth is that I didn't make the cut, the greater truth is that there are more of us outside that Inner Ring than within it. I'm in good company and I'm not alone after all.

I'm Dreaming of a......

The photos are coming in. Everywhere on Facebook. A friend posts a photo of a lantern just outside her window, with a backdrop of snow and quaint New England houses. Another friend shares a photo of downtown small-town Pennsylvania, shrouded in snow. My heart aches.

The view from my friend's window
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to live in such an old, snowy place. Originally it was New England. My father and his father and his father going back generation after generation until the first boats of white men were invading those shores, lived and trod and defended that land. It is like there is something in my blood that draws me back.

Over the years I have expanded my dream. It doesn't have to be New England with its arm's length relationships (at least to outsiders and especially southern hillbillies like myself, or so I've heard) and its super-expensive real estate. Any place that is chock full of history and snow, "old and cold," will do. And, of course, let's ditch the cities altogether for a more small town/rural atmosphere.

Sure, maybe I am delusional. I am sure there are plenty who would say that I don't know what I am asking for. I remember one time saying to someone that I wanted to live where it snows a lot and he replied, "No, you don't." Well, really, I do.

So it just hurts, especially at this time of year, to see images of something I have dreamed of for as much of my 50 years as it is capable of dreaming of such things.

Sure, maybe I just want to live in a Currier and Ives etching or a Norman Rockwell print. But I know those places are real because my friends' photos tell me so.

Watch Knob and The Four Brothers, Swannanoa, NC
I cannot, CANNOT complain, really. God has blessed me immensely with living in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I know that. I do not take it for granted. Every, EVERY single time I come around the curve and there before me is the Warren Wilson College Farm being watched over by Watch Knob and The Four Brothers (for you non-locals, these are mountains), with the Craggies (yet more, and higher, mountains) as a backdrop, I thank God for giving me the privilege of living in such a breathtakingly gorgeous place. Every. Single. Time.

I don't know what it is that makes me think I can, or should, have everything I want. I already have so much. Maybe it is my desire to have heaven, or at least MY version of heaven, on earth. Maybe it is my built in Grass Is Always Greener gene, an obvious result of mankind's fallen condition. Maybe it is the I Want What I Want When I Want It, yet another result of the fall. These all result in the spirit of discontentment, within which I live an alarmingly large portion of my life.

Every so often the truth hits me. This life is not all there is. Maybe these longings are good, as they point to something better, to something more. I was not placed on this earth to just get what I want, even if what I want isn't money or fame or fortune but small towns and old houses and snow. I was placed on this earth to love the way God loves me and instructs me to love others, regardless of weather or time or place.

There is an eternity to enjoy heaven, I do not have to have my version of it for this short time on earth. In letting go of that I am free to do what I was created to do. That indeed is good news.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Grasping Grace

Recently, an appalling article has been going around about two daughters who are basically living, breathing, walking, talking billboards for their father's plastic surgery practice. It is all pretty horrifying and really sick on so many fronts.

The cosmetic surgery industry (Note: I am not at all talking about the necessary plastic surgery to repair accidents or congenital abnormalities, I am talking about the type that is intended to turn you into a voluptuous beach babe bombshell, even when you are 60.) is baffling to me. I just don't get it. I'm not one to go for glitz and glamor, bling and fashion. Being more of an overalls and ponytail type of gal, it completely eludes me how anybody could would want to do all that stuff to their body, much less cough up the big bucks to get the goods. But I have to look beyond that and try to understand.

We live in a world where it is not OK to age. It is not OK to not be beautiful. Who you are is defined by how you appear to be and how you appear to be will determine if you are admired, respected, and loved.

That said, it then makes sense that, in certain cultures (just not mine), women go to extreme lengths for "improvement" that their culture demands. They are grasping. Desperately grasping. Then again, I grasp, too.

-Every time I look in the mirror and panic because, well, I ain't what I used to be, I am grasping.

-Every time I pull on a pair of pants that just didn't used to be that tight and am hit with a wave of despair that I am morphing into a middle-aged, frumpy, female Jabba the Hutt, I am grasping.

-Every time I compare my real estate sales production for the year to everybody else's in order to determine whether I am really competent at what I do, I am grasping.

-Every time I write a blog post and put it out there and worry because it isn't getting many comments and I feel naked and ashamed, I am grasping.

-Every time I see some other mother "doing it right" in some way where I failed and I beat myself up and say that God should have never given me children if I was going to fail them so, I am grasping.

-Every time I see that some friend ran a marathon and I can't even run a mile and I feel totally inadequate and lazy to boot, I am grasping.

-Every time somebody says something insightful and wise and I feel a twinge of envy that I wasn't the first to say it, I am grasping.

-Every time I play "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" and lose and I feel like a complete idiot for being such a brainless wonder, I am grasping.

-Every time I fret because I am not as "tough" as I feel I should be to gain respect or ward off physical or emotional pain, I am grasping.

-Really, any time I sit around comparing myself to other people (I have turned it into an art form), I am grasping.

-And any time I believe that it is up to me to control everything I can about this life because it really is all up to me after all, I am grasping.

It is the most natural thing in the world to grasp, I suppose. To reach for all the wrong things that were never, ever meant to define me. So I must let go. Release my pathetic and desperate grasp on the things that will never ever satisfy. Jesus, through his immeasurable grace, has accomplished it all for me. It has been said and done. It is finished. I can never be more loved and secure than I am right now. He has grasped me and will never let go.

I forget this now and again. Too often, I must say. But I am starting to get it, little by little. With each glance in the mirror, and twang of regret, or twitch of envy, I am starting to get it. Next time I grasp, may it be that I grasp for grace.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Remembering Them

It is easy to get lost in the frenzy of the Christmas season. Even those of us who claim to know better, still tend to equate Christmas with family and friends and food and parties and gifts and even snow. Not that there is anything wrong with any of these things, but Christmas, more than any other time of year, can draw such a palpable dividing line between the haves and the have nots. And this doesn't just mean money.

So when you are jolly and joyful with a Ho Ho Ho and a Fa La La La La, stop and remember that your experience doesn't stand for everybody. Be careful of what you post. Be sensitive in what you say. Someone else may not have received the blessings you enjoy.

When you squeeze your loved ones tight and wish them a Merry Christmas, remember those who have experienced unspeakable loss over the past year and are facing this season without joy, but with mourning. And pray for them.

When your kids stream in from college and you are so glad to have your family together again, remember those whose children refuse to come home. Or may never come home. Pray for them.

When your family gathers around a table laden with steamy comfort foods and cups of good cheer, remember those who sit and eat. Alone. And pray for them.

When you open your door to welcome in aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, remember those who have no aunts or uncles or cousins or grandparents or family of any kind. And pray for them.

When you anticipate a time of great peace and joy in your home, remember those whose homes are filled with no peace or joy, only fighting, neglect and abuse of all kinds. And pray for them.

When your daughter shows up squealing in delight at the gift of shiny engagement ring and the prospect of an upcoming wedding, remember those who have no prospects. And pray for them.

When you offer up a toast in holiday cheer, remember those whose lives are torn apart by the abuse of drink or drugs. And pray for them.

When you lie in your cozy bed in your warm house, remember those who have no warm place to sleep. And pray for them.

When you sit by the fire and read stories to your children, remember those who are sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one, knowing that this will be their last Christmas together. And pray for them.

When you think back on all the warm memories of Christmas of your childhood, remember those who have no such memories, only a hollow emptiness. And pray for them.

When you watch "It's a Wonderful Life" for the 17th time and you get to the part where George Bailey thinks he is worth more dead than alive and plans to jump to his death off the bridge, only to have his plan thwarted by the angel Clarence, remember that for many people life seems just that hopeless, but Clarence never comes. And pray for them.

When you are tempted to get totally caught up in it all and you settle in to the comfort of all your blessings, remember that there are those who have no visible blessings in their lives. And pray for them.

We seem to be all about news at Christmas. But the Good News isn't really about family and friends and food and presents at all. The Good News is that Jesus came for us. And he came for them. He came to seek and save that which was lost. He came to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. He came to be a light in the darkness, a beam of glimmering hope in the darkest of corners of humanity. He came to welcome the weary and break the yoke of oppression. He came so that sin and anger and abuse and heartbreak and loneliness will not have the final say.

This alone is the reason to rejoice. For you. For me. And for them.
O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
—Edmund Sears

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Relief of a Diagnosis

Earlier this week an article came out about Susan Boyle. You know, that woman who totally floored Simon Cowell in "Britain's Got Talent," because nobody suspected that a middle-aged, average looking, frumpily dressed woman could actually sing. Yeah, that one.

Well, it turns out that she was recently diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. And, to her, that diagnosis was a relief.

The exact same thing happened to my 23-year-old daughter two months ago. Same diagnosis. Same sense of relief. So many questions answered. So many opportunities now for growth and development.

People tend to shy away from labels. They don't like being put in boxes. They think that it will handicap them in some way, and sometimes it does. We put off for years getting a couple of our kids evaluated for ADHD, but even with them, the diagnosis came as a relief.

Labels aren't always bad. They can be very good. A friend says that a label is like a handle, it gives you something to hold onto. It is true. The diagnosis can explain and define and give you a framework within which to figure out life.

My oldest child has always been an introvert and a bit on the "bookish" side of things. She is also tremendously private—a trait she most definitely did not receive from me. For years I have said that you enter her world at her invitation only.

Throughout high school she had some struggles, but since she had the same small group of friends and her academic world was pretty much spelled out for her, she did OK. The older she got, though, the harder it seemed to navigate the world of social interactions. They baffled her and several times she actually verbalized the wish that there was a class for social skills. Of course, I had no idea how to teach something like that because, for me, they are just what you DO.

By her senior year in high school, patterns began to emerge. Chunks of time spent with friends wore her out. If she spent the night out, she would come home and sleep for hours on end, shutting out the world. Usually she would also get sick. Then she would get behind, and the more she got behind the more overwhelmed she got, and the more she would shut the world out and escape into an online world of fantasy literature.

I was baffled by this. I love people and learning all about them. I love being out and about. I can't stand staying in one room all day long. I wondered how she would fare in college.

Her first semester in college went fine but soon the novelty wore off. College was a place of interacting with lots of people and lots of abstract thinking and lots of reading the professors' minds about what was expected. None of those tools were in her tool box. She began to shut the world out.

By her sophomore year in college things spun out of control. By the time she called me in early December of that year she had missed weeks of classes and had spent the time on her bed crying. I brought her home.

Treating the depression was Step One and I hoped that getting that taken care of would remedy her struggles. And it did, sort of.

But over the next four years the pattern remained. She seemed happy enough to hole up in a world of her own and let life pass her by. Every so often she would venture out, find a job, and sometimes even a boyfriend, but eventually she would find the interactions and the expectations totally overwhelming and have to shut down again.

Matt and I were absolutely baffled. Our daughter is very, very smart. She was the salutatorian of her class at her academically rigorous high school yet she could not pass an English class at the local community college because it required so much abstract thinking.

She is quite beautiful (a friend compares her to Kate Winslet) yet she would usually only dress in jeans and superhero t-shirts. No makeup. Not a care in the world about her hair or clothes or appearance in general. Comfort and only comfort ruled.

She is exceedingly kind, yet there were times she appeared so self-absorbed and obsessed with a fantasy world that she didn't seem to care about the people around her.

And the more I tried to "fix" things (which I felt the need to do because, obviously, if I had done my job as a mother she would be cruising through life like everybody else her age . . . or so it seemed), the worse things got. In an attempt to find out if there was some trauma in her childhood that was behind her challenges, I asked her what the worst memory of her growing up years was. Her reply? When her youngest sister and brother would make so much noise. Yes, I was baffled.

I had wondered for years about Asperger's, but when I would read about it, things just didn't completely match up. Then this past fall I noticed the cycle starting again. Migraines and feeling bad and missing work and holing up alone for days on end. Concerned that she would endanger her very good job (that she actually liked) and lose all the ground she had recently gained, I sent her to a psychiatrist.

In the meantime, my sister, who has worked in her local school system for 30-plus years, sent me information on Asperger's in females (which presents itself differently than in males). When I saw this chart, I knew. Oh, how I KNEW! Within a week my daughter and I were going over the chart together and she determined that she had all but three of the 45 characteristics listed. At her next visit with the psychiatrist, he confirmed our suspicions.

To say this is a relief is such an understatement. It is a relief for her because instead of feeling weird and alone, she knows that there are other people out there who struggle with exactly the same issues. It is relief for her because with this diagnosis comes hope. There are books, websites, therapists, community groups all dedicated to helping Aspies navigate the very confusing world they are in.

The diagnosis is a relief to more than just my daughter. It is relief to me. Forever the "guilt magnet" (as my husband affectionately calls me), I was convinced that her struggles were all my fault and she was suffering in life because of my failure. Come to find out, her challenges actually run in my husband's extended family. Best of all, I understand my daughter a little more. Not completely, but better.

It seems that there are always articles out there complaining about such labels and claiming that they are just a way for people to avoid responsibility for their own actions. On the contrary! The diagnosis—the label, if you will—provides a framework for taking responsibility. As a wise person once said to me, "Maturity is learning to manage your biology."

For my daughter, for me, for my family, this diagnosis has been a godsend. After all, God is the one who wired her. And now we know how to love her better.

Friday, December 6, 2013

God Has Not Called Me To That

It is no secret that I struggle. A lot. Envy. Shoot, I think I've turned it into an art form. I can glow green over almost anything. Beauty, brains, abilities, accomplishments, circumstances, relationships, weather. Especially weather.

Oh, I've blogged about it before (see Envy Sucks). Written about it in a class project. Spun into despair over this sin.  Spent so much time begging God to change my heart.

Now I am not a charismatic, but I know the work of the Holy Spirit when I see it. One day I was hit with yet another wave of envy and I said to myself, "God has not called me to that."

All I can say is that it felt like that wonderful gasp of air when you have been holding your breath for way too long under water. Or perhaps the feeling of solid ground under your tires when you have slid in the mud. Or that glorious glass of water when you are dying of thirst.

That was not an isolated incident. Since that day, when I feel that sickening sense of envy begin to overtake me, I stop and remind myself once again.

God has not called me to that.

Just yesterday I was trying to figure out why this phrase is so incredibly powerful in blasting to bits my most pervasive sin. I began by dismantling the statement and focusing on the nouns.

God: This reminds me that there is an all loving, all powerful Creator at work. The God who beckons the morning, who numbers the stars, who parts the waters and knows what is in the heart of man, is at work.

Me: This all loving, all powerful Creator, who created even me, is at work in MY life. This is a very personal God who is wholly involved in every aspect of my life, great and small.

That: Whatever that is is just a thing, an experience, a relationship. All dispensable. All of this earth. If God has withheld that from me, be it skills or looks or even the Storm of the Century, it is because he knows that I do not need that.

His ways are higher than mine and his thoughts higher than mine and his working in my life is way beyond my comprehension. And I can trust that it is all good. Ultimately, if not apparently, good.

So today as Winter Storm Cleon (where do they get these names?) works its way across the country, missing me entirely and bestowing the severe weather and beloved snow on seemingly everybody else, I will have to remind myself once again of this truth.

God has not called me to that.

Monday, December 2, 2013

When Your Hero Is a Harlot

You ever had somebody ask you who your hero is? I've heard of this question being on college applications and in job interviews. Sometimes it is used in one of the "getting to know you" games. And I've never had one. Sure, I've had college applications and job interviews and even participated in those social ice breaker games (I met my husband that way, he handed me a penny), but I have never had a hero. Never until a couple of years ago, that is.

Some time in 2011 my daughter came home from the library with Season 1 of CSI: Miami. One episode and I was hooked. Over the next few months we managed to purchase the first five seasons of the show and watched with anticipation and rapt attention. And for the very first time, I found a hero, Calleigh Duquesne.

Calleigh Duquesne, the crime scene investigator ballistics specialist is everything I have ever longed to be. Beautiful (by pretty much anybody's standard), smart, chock full of technical know-how, tough and determined, and rolling in common sense. Totally indispensable to the team. Yet she is also compassionate, loyal and completely trustworthy. If you would ask me who I would want to be when I grew up, I would have to say Calleigh Duquesne. But Calleigh Duquesne is a fictional person, a figment of somebody's imagination. And Calleigh Duquesne doesn't need a Savior.

Enter the harlot. In Luke 7:36-50 we are told a story. Jesus has been invited to have dinner at the home of a Pharisee. All we know about this woman is that she has lived a sinful life and, from what I have read, that means she was likely a harlot, a slut, a prostitute. Yet she longs to see Jesus. This woman comes to Jesus at the dinner party, falls at his feet, and begins washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. The host is not pleased. Jesus goes on to teach a valuable lesson about forgiveness and love.

But, right now, I just want to focus on the woman. Can you imagine the guts that took? For a harlot to show up at a dinner party in the home of a Pharisee, the most fine and upstanding and righteous of the bunch? And then to pour herself out at the feet of the dinner guest?

I admire her, this harlot. Not for her beauty or her skills. But for her faith. For her brokenness. For her heart. For her determination to bow at the feet of Jesus, no matter what it took. I admire her because she knew she was helpless on her own. She knew where to go with her sin. She KNEW she needed a Savior.

And that is the beauty of it all. Defying social conventions for the sake of the gospel. A real person, a real sinner, real brokenness, real forgiveness at the feet of a real Savior. Yes, this harlot is my hero.