Of Reality and Social Media

’tis the season of social media celebration, is it not?

If you’ve scrolled through Facebook or Instagram in the last few weeks you’ve seen photos of families posed in their Easter best, grads celebrating in caps and gowns, and smiling moms lauded as nothing short of perfection.

How you doin’?

I’m feeling kind of shitty, if I’m going to be honest.

I mean, yes, I love seeing all these photos, I really do.

I am happy for ya’all.

I am.

But am I the only one who is tempted to compare my life’s reality with the curated perfection often portrayed on social media?

Am I the only one who needs to talk myself back into the world of reality saying things like, “What a lovely photo. How great that they were able to capture it! Surely their lives are full of all kinds of ups and downs, and they managed to capture an up.”

I have to remind myself that I, too, recently posted a smiling family photo that reflects just a moment, not the totality of our reality. We take a photo and post it on a day where we all managed to get dressed, comb our hair, and gather ourselves in the same location. We don’t post one on all the other days when we are in yoga pants lying on our couches watching Netflix and trying to find the motivation to be productive.

We post the miraculous moments when things are as they should be — when family is together, when babies are well, when friends reunite, and when we are celebrating life.

We don’t post ourselves trudging through the grocery store at 11pm trying to find an “item to share” for the work party the next day. We don’t share our stories of hair loss and psoriasis. We don’t post when our families experience brokenness, or betrayal, or heartbreak. Nobody wants to see all that.

But when I’m scrolling, I forget that, and I start to imagine that the photos reflect the full lived experience of the people in them:

The mother holding her newborn spends 24 hours a day gazing lovingly at a blissful bundle swaddled sweetly in her arms.

The capped and gowned graduate is always photo-ready — hair coiffed, make-up air-brushed, and outfit fresh and pressed.

The family hugged up and smiling never experiences conflict — rather they live in bliss and harmony seven days a week.

And when I’m looking at images in that way, I begin to compare my life to their lives, and I start feeling shitty.

Why do these people look so polished? How do they have such happy lives? Why don’t they struggle like we do? Where is their hurt? Where is their brokenness?

I don’t imagine the same mother, pajama-clad, hair flying, as she runs to the crying baby in the middle of the night. Or the college student, sleep-deprived and underfed, stumbling into the final exam, barely earning enough points to pass. Or the members of that family shouting at each other, ignoring one another, or crying, each alone in separate rooms.

Because we don’t post that stuff.

We post images like this:

Me with my dad and my godmother on Mother’s Day

Not this:

Me, blogging right now.

We want to show the beautiful, the picture-perfect, not the raw, unfiltered, reality of our flawed humanity.

But, let me assure you, behind every curated photo — every moment of celebration, every coiffed ‘do, and stylish dress — is struggle, conflict, challenge, and disappointment. We are all broken. Even those who appear near-perfect.

Perhaps that’s the reason we love social media so much — we love to show the world that, “see it’s not so bad after all!” We might be a walking hot mess six days of the week, but on the seventh we managed to pull it together, and we wanted photographic proof that it happened.

When I scroll through social media with that mindset — acknowledging that my feed reflects exceptional moments — I am able to smile and celebrate with the people in the photos. Good for you, Miss Winston for getting your Master’s degree! Congratulations, Emily on running a 5K with your family! Way to go, Tiger, for shooting that turkey! You did it! Hooray!

You’re all doing a great job. I know things aren’t always as great as they are in your photos, but I’m glad you occasionally get moments that are good enough to commemorate with a photo shared on social media.

For those of you who haven’t had a photo-worthy moment in a while — and I know you are out there — it’s ok to take a vacation from social media for a while. If you just can’t see one more perfectly posed image, walk away — delete the app for a while, be kind to yourself. It’s ok to sit on the couch with your hair uncombed and your teeth unbrushed, especially if the brokenness is too palpable, too fresh, too tender. Watch some Great British Baking Show, read Ann Voskamp or David Sedaris, listen to Lauren Daigle or Stevie Wonder, lean in, cry, write some words, take a bath, get some rest.

The season of shittiness will shift and you will have another day of celebration, and we’ll be watching for it. We’ll laugh with you, we’ll cry tears of joy and celebration, we’ll click ‘like’ or ‘love’, and we’ll clap our hands.

In the mean time, if you want somebody to come sit on your couch with you–eating potato chips and flicking the crumbs off your chest — reach out. Plenty of us are willing to come into the swamp with you. And, who knows, maybe we’ll take a moment to post a picture.

a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”

Ecclesiasties 3:4
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From Mourning to Hope

Was 2018 heavy? I feel like I spent about twelve months of exhausting trudging, eyes to the ground, trying to find my next step.

My son, who served in the 82nd Airborne often talks about “rucking” — a long march, 15-20 miles or more, with a heavy pack of gear strapped on your back.

Image result for ruck march
Ruck March

The soldier carries necessities — provisions, weapons, extra socks, and the like — on his back and moves forward. The more he does this, the better he gets at it — the longer he can go, the more he can carry. Soldiers practice rucking, of course, so that when they have to go on a mission, they have the strength and endurance they need to endure.

Now I have used the metaphor of the solider many times in this blog to describe a lifestyle that I used to live that was characterized by butt-kicking and name-taking. This year was not that kind of soldiering. No, that old lifestyle was built on the premise that I had the strength within myself to accomplish whatever task was put in front of me. It was built on bravado; I believed that by the force of my will I could solve all the problems and complete all the tasks. I’ve learned a lot since then.

Much of my writing over the last four and a half years has been a chronicle of the retraining I’ve undergone to stop living the soldiering lifestyle — I’ve changed physical things like my diet, exercise, healthcare providers, and job, and emotional things like the ways that I speak to and care for myself. Yet, while I have been very intentional about stepping away from soldiering, I am still prone to strapping on that backpack when the going gets tough.

And it does get tough, doesn’t it?

This past year was the toughest yet. And I might’ve gone back to soldiering, if it would’ve done any good, but it wouldn’t have, because 2018 brought the kind of heavy that dispelled any vestiges of that former belief — that bravado — that inner mantra I used to live by that said I could handle anything. The heaviness of 2018 was more than I could carry. I could no longer ruck. I had to admit my powerlessness. I sat down, and I cried. Over and over this year, I cried, and I cried, and I cried.

I grieved most of 2018. I grieved for the losses of many who are dear to me — who themselves lost so much this year — and I grieved for myself — for all the losses I have failed to grieve over the years. Likely the biggest grief of all was realizing that — that I hadn’t felt all the feelings when I should have been feeling them; instead, I had been rucking. I’d been carrying a load of hurt shoved down deep in a bag, when I should have been spreading all the griefs out on a blanket, examining each one and recognizing the weight of each loss.

So, I spent the last several months doing just that. I have examined the contents of that bag. I have spread it all out. I have sorted it with the support of my therapist. I have processed it by writing page after page. I have prayed and prayed and prayed. I have invited others to pray with me. I have spent hours and days and whole weeks talking with my husband — rehearsing forgiveness and grace. And, guys, I think I’m ready to take a break from grief.

For years I’ve worn a small heart charm on a gold chain. The heart has a K on the front and my birthdate on the back. It was a baptism gift from my godparents, and I wear it to remember whose I am. Almost 15 years ago, I added another charm — a butterfly that my mother gave me when I earned my master’s degree. I wear it to remember that I have been transformed. I’m not big on jewelry. In fact, my skin rejects all but the finest of gold, so when my chain broke about a year and half ago, I didn’t get it fixed because we were already in the throes of trauma, and I didn’t have the wherewithal or the resources to deal with it.

But on Christmas morning, as we sat in our living room with three of our four children, and we started to believe that the gray fog of grief was lifting, my husband gave me my repaired gold chain. I’ve put it back on, because I need a physical sign that the season of mourning is over. I need a daily reminder that I am a child of God who has been transformed. The times of refreshing have come.

Certainly 2019 will not be free of trouble. We may be devastated again today or next week or next month, but for now, I am going to acknowledge that we were carried through 2018 not by our own might, but by the Hands of God who saw every tear, heard every prayer, and who, right now, is turning our mourning into hope.

You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

Psalm 30:11-12