Tool vs. Trap

Being the ripe old age of 30, I remember life before the internet and cell phones.  As a child one of my biggest pet peeves was when someone forgot to rewind the VHS because it meant I had to wait longer before my movie was ready.  I watched commercials and was limited to whatever shows were playing at the time.  When I wanted to call a friend I called their home phone and had to talk to whoever happened to answer and then wait patiently for my friend to get to the phone.  At one point, just before my little brother’s voice changed, no one could tell his voice and my voice apart on the phone which made for some interesting conversations when his friends asked if I could come and play or if my friends started venting boy drama to him.  When I started driving, if I didn’t know how to get to a place, I had to mapquest it before I left.  If I got lost, well, good luck.

My kids will never understand the frustration of rewinding.  Goodness, we went on a trip this summer and my son watched cable TV for the first time and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t watch the show he wanted WHEN he wanted, and commercials, those were crazy.  About a year ago, my son, who was 2 at the time, picked up an old corded phone that we keep around as a toy and shouted at it, “Ok google, show me some pictures of dinosaurs!”  With those googling skills, he certainly will never be lost while driving or be in want of random factoids.

I’ve been catching up on some old Star Trek recently on Netflix.  They had the concept down for a tablet to read reports and such from, but they had to have a separate one for each report, book, etc.  It’s a little funny to watch this “future” technology now, when we actually have things that are more advanced.  My cell phone alone holds the Bible, Book of Mormon, other scripture, multiple magazines, and audiobooks, as well as offering me the ability to check messages, emails, the news, and the weather wherever I want all in one hand held device.  Take that Star Trek!

Just in my lifetime I have witnessed some amazing technological advances.  In many ways our society and culture are very different because of these advances and conveniences.

A few weeks ago my phone died.  Not like it ran out of battery died, it gave up the ghost, went the way of all the earth, went to the great charger in the sky.  I had some warning signs, it was kinda coming in and out, so we ordered a new one and I hoped that it would stumble along until the new phone arrived, but none such luck.  It left me with about 5 days with no phone.

It was weird to say the least.  I had to physically write out a grocery list, think of the poor trees that were sacrificed!  I had no idea what time it was when I was out and about, a lot of places don’t have wall clocks anymore.  I didn’t really know what to do with my hands.  And overall, I actually kinda liked it.  Not enough for me to cancel my order for my phone, but it definitely got me thinking about the impact of technology on my life.

Technology can be an amazing tool.  As I’ve already mentioned it allows us to be in contact when we need to, find places easily, and gives us access to the media we want to enjoy.  It has done amazing things in advancing the work of family history, you can track health goals, find recipes, find ideas for basically everything, learn how to replace or fix pretty much anything, stay connected with friends, and share ideas all with a few clicks or thumb swipes.  It is truly amazing and such a blessing.

So then why did I kinda like not having a phone for a few days?

Technology is a blessing and a curse.  It can be such an terrific tool, but it can also be a terrible trap.

There’s some obviously dangerous traps such as pornography, and predators that stalk the internet, but I don’t want to focus on those.  I’m going to focus on things that are a little less obvious.

Before my phone broke I was definitely guilty of aimless Facebook scrolling.  I am by no means anti-Facebook.  Chances are if you are reading this, you found it on Facebook.  I really like keeping in touch with old friends and connecting with new friends.  I regularly use it to plan play dates and it’s how I connect with Lifting Hands International to sign up for opportunities to serve refugees.  But all too frequently it turns into a major distraction.  As a mom who does not work outside the home, sometimes I can start to feel a little isolated.  I think I turned to Facebook thinking that it would help me feel more connected to people, which sometimes it does connect me to people, but more often than not it turned into a mind numbing abyss that distracted me from reality.  You know, like my kids that are growing up too fast, the food that doesn’t cook itself, the dishes that don’t wash themselves, and just actually living my own life.  I would finish a scroll sesh feeling unfulfilled, bored, and sometimes rather anxious.  It got to the point where I couldn’t even claim it was relaxing and I certainly wasn’t feeling more connected to other people.

Now I’m not suggesting that this is what everyone should, or must do, but if you find yourself falling into the trap of aimless scrolling, here’s what I did.  When I got my new phone, I did not install the Facebook app and I vowed to myself not to open it through the browser.  When it was on my phone it was just too easy to hop on when I had a second of time that was not specifically designated for another task, which then turned into too much time.  I didn’t have to think about getting on.  Regularly I would grab my phone to do something else, check Facebook for a second which turned into lots of seconds, and then forget what I actually got on my phone to do.  Now, I have to grab my computer if I want some Facebook time.  It has to be an intentional decision to get on.  Now Facebook serves as the tool it should be.  I use it to connect, make plans, share my blog, and some relaxation time.  It’s far less of the time sucking and mind numbing trap it was before.

This issue isn’t limited to Facebook, really it’s anything that sucks up your time and distracts you from your reality.  It might be Instagram, the news, a game, Pinterest, or whatever other new fangled things the kids are using these days.  All of these have a time and a place and can be amazing tools.  I use Pinterest frequently to find healthy recipes and help with creative ideas.  Playing games can be relaxing and can even help keep your brain sharp.  Keeping up with current events is important for many reasons.  I’m not on Insta- but I hear it’s cool and less political than Facebook.  The problem is when these things prevent us from living our lives.  Are we actually playing with our kids for the sake of playing with them instead of either ignoring them or just hoping for good photo ops to show off on social media.  Keeping up with current events is good until it prevents you from keeping current with your family and friends or contributes to anxiety and depression.  Playing games can be relaxing and mentally stimulating but unfortunately can also take over people’s lives and prevent them from having a reality.  There are so many great ideas on Pinterest, but if you spend all of your time searching for the perfect idea or meal and never actually making them then what is the point.

The April 2017 Ensign (a magazine published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), had an amazing article titled “Growing a Healthy Technology Garden.” While published by a church affiliated magazine, notably this article is not specifically religious in nature, I would definitely encourage readers regardless of religious preferences to give it a look over.  The main point that really hit me was creating a “family media plan.”  The author, Marissa Widdison, offers some guiding questions, or if you click on that hyperlink it will take you to a search with several organizations that offer ideas for how to set one up.

I wanted to highlight the first guiding question: When is using technology OK, and for how long?  I can’t answer this for anyone else, I’m still working on completely answering it for myself.  But here’s some things you might consider as you create your plan:

  • Will I designate a certain amount of time, or designate specific times when I don’t use technology (family time, meals, etc.), or a combination of both
  • Are there things I should get done before I allow myself designated media time (household maintenance, exercise, church/ community responsibilities, personal/ spiritual development)

I am working on putting my phone away for specific times to devote to my children without any distractions and have decided not to have any Facebook time until I have exercised for the day.  This is what’s working pretty well for me (far from perfect), but again, figure out what works best for you.

Here’s what I have kept on my phone to make it a tool:

  • Fitness tracker- counting calories, tracking macro nutrients, reminding myself to drink more water, tracking exercise, it’s all super convenient
  • Gospel library app- now instead of browsing Facebook while I feed my daughter her bottles I read scriptures or church magazines- a really great pick me up in the middle of the day
  • Facebook messenger- I can stay connected easily with friend and family
  • Audible/ Overdrive- audio books have kinda become my thing lately, check back later for some reviews of some of the books I’ve “read” recently
  • Organization apps- I’ve got my calendar of course, but also meal planning, and Wunderlist to make checklists that can be shared with my husband
  • Pinterest- so I can access and find recipes conveniently

It’s liberating.  I don’t miss it.  Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) make you miss out on your actual life.  Make your devices tools not a traps.

 

Kindness and Charity- Part 3- Breaking Down the Barriers

Now that we’ve discussed the definitions of kindness and charity, and the barriers that get in the way, let’s get on with how to break those barriers down!

ASSUME PEOPLE ARE DOING THE BEST THEY CAN

I recently read Rising Strong by Brene Brown.  Amazing book, definitely encourage people to read it.  She tells a story about part of her personal journey with how she views people.  It was brought on when her therapist asked her if she thought people, in general, were doing the best they can.  Her response was no, no way people are doing the best they can.  So she began asking other people she encountered the same question and got varied responses.  As I was listening (because when I said I read it, I actually meant I listened to it, ain’t nobody got time for reading!) I thought about the people I’ve encountered that I knew there was no way they were doing the best they could, and myself, I know there are definitely times when I am not doing the best I can.  But then as her story continued she changed her mind, and so did I.  She recounted getting together with a friend and asking the question, knowing that the friend would agree with her about people NOT doing the best they can, which the friend did.  The friend then went on with a rant about breastfeeding and how people just are not doing the best they can and if they weren’t up for breastfeeding then they shouldn’t have even gotten pregnant, and if they really loved their kids they would give it their all.  This hit Brene really hard, and it hit me really hard as well.  Sounds like Brene and I had a very similarly unfortunate experience with breastfeeding and the judgment, whether direct or indirect, at failing at it.  My experience was difficult, I didn’t produce well, and baby didn’t latch well, and it hurt, it hurt so bad.  It made me go to a very dark place so with my first I started formula very early on, and blessedly was able to continue nursing part time with him.  But when people would say things like, oh- you just gotta_____, or keep trying it will come, it made me want to scream, “I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN!!!”  And for me that best was making sure he was fed and that primarily came from a bottle of formula.

Then I thought about other times in my life where looking from the outside it probably didn’t look like I was doing my best.  My second pregnancy was rough.  I was in debilitating pain from 10 weeks on, my energy level was non-existent, those things combined with the hormones put me in a pretty bad depression cycle.  My house was a horrible mess, and my son watched way more TV than I ever would have thought possible, and I was doing the absolute best I could in that moment.

Let’s think about others, now of course there are times when they are not doing their best, but put that aside for a minute.  You don’t know if they are battling debilitating physical pain, mental illness, a recent crisis, disease, addiction, the list could go on.  The lady that yelled on the phone, the student who didn’t get their homework done, the mom down the street that’s always drunk and letting her kids roam the streets- is it possible that they are actually doing the best they can in that moment?  Yes, it’s actually possible.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t help them or just let it slide.  In the case of a neighbor or someone in your life that is suffering from addiction or putting children in harm’s way, that doesn’t mean that you don’t make phone calls to appropriate resources at appropriate times.  That might be what they need to help them bring their best up to an appropriate level.  What it does mean is that you approach them differently, from a place of love and compassion rather than from a place of judgment and disdain.

SERVE AND BE SERVED

Serve

I have always loved doing service.  One of best friends and I started a club in Jr. High whose primary purpose was to support students in Nepal by paying their tuition for school.  The club is actually still around almost 2 decades later (that makes me feel really old).  To this day when I meet someone from Nepal I have this immediate love for them, which might freak them out, but serving them has made me feel connected to them across the globe.

More recently, as in last year as opposed to almost 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to serve a refugee family recently arrived from Syria.  I got connected with a group that arranged for meals to be brought in to families as they arrived.  There was not an apartment immediately available, so this family of 8 (the parents and 6 kids) were split between 2 motel rooms, they had limited finances, limited access to transportation, and their English was even more limited than everything else.  So I volunteered to bring them a meal.  They are Muslim so it needed to be Halal and it happened to be during Ramadan so it needed to be delivered after the sun went down.

This gave me the opportunity to do research on what Halal even meant (for those that don’t know, it’s similar to the Kosher laws that orthodox Jews follow), and to learn more about Islamic customs.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous to go and meet this family.  My only impression of Muslim men, especially coming from the Middle East, was unfortunately negative.  I pictured someone stern and oppressive, I thought I would need to keep my young son away and quiet as that would be the woman’s duty.  I assumed the wife would be quiet and afraid of her husband.  I had been programmed with a lot of misinformation, like I discussed in part 2.

My experience was so different from what I imagined.  The husband was incredibly welcoming, warm, and kind.  He did seem a little surprised when I put out my hand to shake his, but was not upset by the gesture.  He loved my son who was not quite 2 at the time.  He threw him in the air and tickled him.  He let him jump on the bed with their two young daughters.

Despite the very difficult language barriers (even with Google translate), we had a lovely visit with them.  They kept offering us food and drinks.  I kept refusing until I finally realized how much it would mean to them to serve us, to show some amount of hospitality as they would have done in their former life before war, oppression, and persecution took everything away from them.  We finally accepted a glass of coke and they were so happy to give it to us.  (Not being a regular caffeine drinker and being around 9 in the evening, I actually didn’t sleep at all that night- but it was totally worth it!)

That act of service, for a group of people I was so misinformed about, changed my heart.  It broadened my horizons.  It made me look at them as “brothers instead of others.”  It helped me develop charity.  It started me on a path with Lifting Hands International that has allowed me to continue serving in meaningful ways which lifts the hands of refugees but might lift my heart and my spirit even more.

I have found no better way to develop a bond with others besides selfless service.  Try it, in your community, in your family, in your workplace, and in your marriage.  Your love will grow for them as well as their love for you.  When I have served others that are going through a particularly trying time I feel invested in their trial and in their life.  We need to be more invested in the human family.

Be served

When I was the ripe old age of 20 I had an arch nemesis.  We’ll call her Jesse.  See at the time I had started dating a guy, we’ll call him, Jake.  We weren’t exclusive, but things were moving in a good direction, slowly, but I just thought that was sweet that he was a slow mover.  Jesse moved into our apartment complex the end of January and Jake met her briefly as he was friends with some of her room mates, nothing of consequence.  Valentines day was coming up and I was planning all sorts of cute things, like decorating his truck, baking cookies, and making a mushy card.  But the week leading up to Valentine’s day he became a little distant, and like I said nothing had been established that we were a couple so I got a weird vibe and decided to just give him a little Valentine like I was giving other friends.  I went to deliver it and Jesse was there with him, looking at his computer with him, but not just looking at something together, in the words of While You Were Sleeping, they were “leaning.”  I was a little rattled and confused and I think I spent the rest of the evening crying to my room mates.  Guys, less than a week later they were officially a couple and a week after that they were ENGAGED.  They had known each other less than a month and for two of those weeks he was dating me.

I didn’t like her and couldn’t take them seriously whatsoever. When word got around that her parents were not supportive of the wedding, I was like, gee whiz, can’t imagine why.  I avoided her like the plague and anytime she did come up I said her name like it was a dirty word.

Flash forward a few months, I was competing in an event called Dancesport at BYU (don’t get excited, I’m not a good dancer, but I was taking a social dance class and that allows you to compete with other people in the class).  Jesse actually was a good dancer, and was in some of the higher level competitions.  I ended up getting horribly ill the night before the event but was well enough in the morning to get there and dance in the first round.  A friend had driven me up there but I didn’t have a way home besides walking 2 miles which I was not looking forward to at all because I was sick and it was cold.  So who should happen to walk up at that time, Jesse.  I did not want to talk to her and I certainly did not want to accept any kind of help from her, part of me kind of hoped she was not heading home at that moment.  But she was, and she offered me a ride, and the practical side of me beat out the hateful side of me because I was really sick.

That moment, changed so much about my attitude.  Humbling myself enough to accept help from her, my arch nemesis, made me see her as a person and realized she actually was kinda cool.  We definitely didn’t become best friends, but I did stop saying her name like a dirty word and let go of the resentment I had been holding on to.  It allowed me to open my heart up and want good things for them, rather than sitting back and wishing the worst on them.  It allowed me to start developing charity for them.

Accepting help can be hard.  We’re stubborn and prideful, and there definitely is merit to being self sufficient and independent.  But what I said above about feeling invested in the human family, it goes both ways.

In the LDS faith, we believe that when we are baptized we make covenants, or promises, with God, one of them being that we will “bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”  We like to focus on bearing the burden and giving the comfort, but sometimes we are the ones that have a burden, are mourning, or needing comfort.  It’s great to be the one serving, but sometimes you need to be the one being served.  You need to allow others the opportunity to be invested in your life, allow them the opportunity to keep their covenants.  Don’t be selfish and keep all the warm fuzzy feelings that come from helping someone to yourself.  Yes, be self reliant, but also reach out for help when it is needed, it might just help you develop greater charity for others, and let them develop greater charity towards you AND others while they’re at it.

DO SOMETHING!

You can’t do everything, you can’t single handedly solve all the problems, and make everyone just get a long.  But you can do SOMETHING.

When Christ told us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc., he didn’t prescribe exactly how it had to be done.  It could include literally handing someone clothing or food. Have you ever given a homeless person a pair of socks?  I cleaned out my husband’s sock drawer and handed clean socks to pan handlers on the street, I got some of the most sincerely grateful looks and smiles I have ever been given.  It could also include giving what you can (money, time, goods) to charitable organizations.  Don’t have the extra room in the finances, socks in the drawer, or time in the day?  A smile and a kind word can go a long way to changing the hearts of everyone involved.

Do something to learn: have a conversation, pick up a book, or at the very least use the Google machine to get more information (from unbiased sources).  You don’t have to become an expert, but the more you learn about other groups the more you will love them.  Knowledge is power!

If all else fails, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin at all!  Think before you speak or share.  Ask yourself if your motivation is love, will it spread love, and will it help others feel loved.

Realize that charity and kindness are action words.  It is not enough to sit back and not do hateful things (although by all means if this is the first step you need to take, please sit back and stop doing or saying hateful things).  You must ACT, you must do something.

Bringing this full circle, back to post 1, where we defined charity as the pure love of Christ.  Christ did not become the embodiment of charity by sitting back and saying he loved us.  He developed charity by constantly acting out of love, and ultimately sacrificing his life because of his love for us.  If we are to develop anything remotely close to that level of love, we need to look around us and just start by doing something.

What will you do today to break down the barriers?

What’s with the name?

Stones that shine in darkness is a phrase that comes from a pretty random (but my favorite) verse in the Book of Mormon, not one of those popular verses that gets quoted regularly (although the story it refers to is a pretty popular story).  Chances are that most people who have read the Book of Mormon, even if they have read it multiple times, probably read over this verse without much pondering because it’s kind of a random aside getting from commentary back to the “important” stuff.

It refers to a story from the Book of Ether, which contains the history of a people called the Jaredites who left the Middle East in barges shortly after the Tower of Babel and landed on the American continent.  The record was then abridged by Moroni (an ancient American prophet) who added some of his own commentary and then was included with the set of records that is now referred to as the Book of Mormon.

As the Jaredites were preparing to leave the Middle East, they built barges as directed by the Lord.  As they built the barges they ran into some rather important concerns like, “how will we get air, or light?”  The Lord gave specific instructions on what to do for air, but for light he basically said, “Figure something out and let me know.”

This leads to a very powerful account of faith in which their Prophet gathered stones and asked that if the Lord would touch them then they would give light.  Which as it is recorded is what happened, the Lord answered his request and touched the stones.  But we’re still not quite to my randomly favorite scripture.

After Moroni finishes retelling this story he proceeds to insert his own commentary and tangents about faith and a few other topics for two whole chapters.  (I feel like Moroni and I would have been good friends with our similar habits of going off on tangents and inserting random commentary which can sometimes end up being longer than the story itself and then having to find a way back…speaking of which, where was I?)  So now Moroni is ready to get back to the story and he uses this as his bridge:

“And thus the Lord caused stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women, and children, that they might not cross the great waters in darkness.” (Ether 6:3)  Then he proceeds to go on with the rest of the story.  This wasn’t really meant to be profound, just a recap to get back on track.  So like I said, most people have probably just read past this verse without much thought.

But one day this scripture hit me like a stone- a shining one.

I was about half way through my 18 month proselyting mission in Florida and I was in a “wo is me” kind of funk.  I mean I was just this pretty ordinary girl from Arizona, why did I think I could help people change their lives.  And then I read this verse and I stopped for a moment and thought about stones.  Just ordinary stones.  Stones aren’t like ancient light bulbs.  It doesn’t even say he found precious stones.  These aren’t diamonds.  They’re just random rocks essentially.  But, in the hands of the Lord, those ordinary things became something extraordinary.  Something very ordinary allowed them to cross the waters with light instead of oppressive darkness.  If the Lord could cause stones to shine in darkness then just maybe he could take ordinary little me and do extraordinary things.

He did, and He still does.  That’s my continuous goal, to keep being a stone in His hands to shine in darkness.