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I’ve quit Facebook before. After I graduated college in 2006, I got married, decided I didn’t need to stay superficially connected to such a large number of acquaintances, and canceled my Facebook account. But over the next few years, Facebook transformed from a college social network to a worldwide phenomenon. In grad school, I realized I was missing out on social invites that were happening via Facebook (or then again…maybe people just didn’t want to invite me). So, in 2009 I rejoined the world of online social networking.

Have there been positives to having a Facebook account? Sure. I started getting invited to a lot more events and attending many of them. (And then I became a mom). One former close friend who I’d lost touch with did contact me on Facebook and we ended up getting together once when she was in town. Sometimes I’ve enjoyed sharing photos and updates from my life and getting responses. And it can be a convenient online scrapbook.

But mostly I try to avoid looking at Facebook. Because, keeping in line with some psychological studies, looking at Facebook does not tend to improve my mood. Rather, my reaction to other people’s status updates usually falls into one of the following categories:

1) Jealousy. Admit it, you know what I’m talking about. People post about highlights from their weeks, their summers, their years. And Facebook posts the highlights of their highlights at the top of your News Feed. It makes me think, why is everyone else’s life so much fun than mine? Or hey, why wasn’t I invited to that party? Or, Wow, that’s great that your 6-week-old sleeps through the night. Congrats.

On this topic, one of my writing buddies wisely said, “Don’t compare your inner world to someone else’s outer world.” Meaning, someone’s life might look great on social media but you don’t know what that person is thinking and feeling. And if I just posted all the highlights of my summer online, my life might seem more than fun than it really is on a day-to-day basis. Weekend trips to Portland, the beach, a toddler-free hike at Tamolitch Falls, a visit to the Wildlife Safari. Or I could go back in time and throw in some of my life highlights if I really wanted to skew reality and make others jealous.

Look at that! A giraffe right outside our car window! My life is exciting!

Look at that! A giraffe right outside our car window! My life is exciting!

2) Annoyance. Sometimes status updates are just annoying. Thankfully, I rarely see annoying political posts, because I’ve hid the few people who are obnoxious about politics. My annoyance is more along the lines of: Glad I could find out about your important life event via your FB status update! (This is reserved for former close friends, members of my wedding party, etc., not random co-workers or people I used to go to church with).

Though, undoubtedly to me the most annoying person on Facebook is The Narcissist. Need I elaborate? I’m sure you have at least one, if not many, Narcissists within your social media circle. The friend who posts just a few too many selfies, always in a bit too perfect lighting, always with a bit too perfect of a pose. The Narcissist would not, as I have done, post of photo of herself holding her newborn baby after staying up all night in labor — wearing no makeup and not having showered for several days. The Narcissist would however post several shirtless photos of himself that nicely highlighted his washboard abs. If you are The Narcissist, I doubt that you recognize yourself in these words. But if you do recognize yourself here then I would say to you a) Maybe there’s more to life than being really really ridiculously good-looking but also b) Congrats! Recognizing you have a problem is the first step to getting better. Then again, maybe I’m just jealous that I don’t photograph well.

3) Who is that person? Most of my Facebook friends are people I only vaguely know. Malcolm Gladwell wrote that the human brain is only designed to handle a community of about 150 people, and only about a dozen close relationships. So even if I have more than 300 Facebook friends, my brain cannot really keep track of more than 150 of those relationships. And is it healthy to keep so many random acquaintances in our online community? Like, do I need to read updates about someone I met once 5 years ago?

Am I just a cranky, anti-social depressive? Perhaps. But I do enjoy talking to people about the interesting things happening in their lives. I’ll even look at your vacation photos if we hang out in person. It’s all just a bit overwhelming, impersonal, and out-of-context when I look at my Facebook News Feed. I have a hope that if I get rid of Facebook, I may put more effort into connecting with friends directly via phone, e-mail and hanging out.

What do you think about Facebook? Do you enjoy using it? Did you cancel your account years ago and feel that your life is better without it? Or is it a necessary evil?

 

 

The official start of summer is just around the corner. The fleeting season for eating freshly picked berries, riding bikes along the river trail, and hiking behind waterfalls. Undoubtedly, my richest memories are from summers.

 

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

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When I was a kid, summer was the season for our annual family vacations. Thanks to my parents’ adventurous spirit, I had many memorable experiences during those vacations. I won’t easily forget the time an orca swam underneath our zodiac raft on a whale-watching expedition in British Columbia. Or seeing the ancient marble formations inside the Oregon Caves. I’ll always remember the talent competitions at our Evans family reunions in the tiny Ozark town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and the time my mom was serenaded by an Elvis impersonator at the country music show.

I’ll remember the glorious summer my parents and I toured Europe — dodging cars on narrow medieval cobblestone streets, standing in centuries-old Gothic cathedrals as light beams down through stained glass, discovering my love for Impressionist painters at the Musee d’Orsay. And I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention the hot and humid September afternoon my husband proposed to me on a glacial rock in Central Park after a picnic lunch of deli sandwiches and potato chips, and our tiramisu wedding cake the following June.

Our wedding day, eight summers ago. (Photo credit TJ Cameron).

Our wedding day, eight summers ago. (Photo credit TJ Cameron).

Even the summertime flops make for good stories — running down the side of South Sister in the midst of a lightning storm, sleeping in our car in Utah when our campsite was being sprayed with insecticide for its mosquito infestation, flying on a sketchy third-world airline that used hand-me-down Hawaiian airlines jets.

I want my daughter to grow up rich in memories too. A family vacation isn’t in the cards for us this summer due to a lack of money and vacation days as well as my daughter’s young age. But we can still have fun while staying here in Oregon. At two-years-old, my daughter probably won’t remember this summer anyway, so I suppose the memory-making this year is more for the benefit of my husband and I.

To help encourage ourselves to make the most of summer, we’ve created our family summer bucket list. I’ll be checking back at the end of the summer to report on our progress. My husband and I agreed on the late deadline of October 15 to complete the activities, since nice weather tends to last through mid-October in Oregon and we’re not particularly tied to the school schedule. The point is to have fun rather than give myself more things I feel obligated to do. WIthout further ado, here’s my list:

1.  Parent-child swim lessons
2.  Canoeing (without our daughter)
3. Lots of bike riding
4. Visit local farm
5. Get off the beaten hiking path (try some hikes outside of the immediate Eugene area — perhaps Blue Pool, Obsidian Falls…)
6. Portland road trip
7.  join CSA (Okay we’ve already done this. I confess the secret to success for to-do lists is to include an item you’ve already completed)
8. Visit Wildlife Safari
9. Watch fireworks (We never do this, because my husband always has to work at 5:30 am on July 5).
10. Attend a concert in the park
11.  Run in Butte-to-Butte race
12. Host 2 dinners (We love to cook and have friends over for dinner, but haven’t been doing a good job of this since moving to Eugene.)
13. Visit Crater Lake

Do you have a favorite summer memory you’d like to share? Or, do you have items on your personal summer bucket list?

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It’s easy to let fear take on more than its share of control in your life — especially when you’re a parent. Starting in pregnancy, the potential fears can be overwhelming. What if I miscarry? What if my baby has a disability? What if my baby is healthy but has a rare vaccine reaction and develops autism? What if….

The list of things to fear is endless. It can paralyze me if I let it.

When my daughter was about five months old she decided she was a tummy sleeper. She had the ability to roll from her back to her tummy, and every time I placed her on her back to sleep, she would roll over. Being the rational person I am, my response was complete panic. Despite the fact that she was five months old and could easily move her head, I assumed she would suffocate if she slept on her stomach. I flipped her over to her back each time, waking up as often as I could to check on her.

Obviously this was not a peak time for my mental health.

At some point I called the pediatrician, who assured me that if she was able to roll over on her own, her muscle control was good enough that stomach-sleeping wasn’t a concern. Whew! I could check a fear off my list.

Still, then and now, there are more things to fear, rational or not. Anxiety has been an on-and-off problem throughout my life. I once fainted after feeling a lump on my spine in the shower. Cancer. In fact, it was a small patch of infected skin.

I used to let fear hold me back from doing things. In high school, I wanted to try out for the cross-country team but I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough, and besides I didn’t really know the other kids on the team. I loved to sing and would’ve enjoyed being in the choir but in middle school the choir director hadn’t allowed me to participate, so I figured I wasn’t choir material.

What if I had continued to let fear prevent me from doing things I should be doing? What if I’d been too scared to volunteer to ride in that cute guy’s truck on the college trip to Sunriver? Ten years later, we’re married with a beautiful daughter. What if I’d been too scared to become a teacher? I would have missed out on two years of impacting the lives of fourth graders, and perhaps more yet to come. What if I’d been too scared to try to become a writer? Or more importantly, a mother?

I want to keep choosing to face my fears, and live life to the fullest each day. I want to, as Teddy Roosevelt said, choose to dare greatly in my life.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…who at best knows the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….” — Teddy Roosevelt

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How have you struggled with fear in parenting or life in general? And, have you ever risked failure in order to achieve a goal?

photo credit: Celestine Chua via photopin cc

 

 

Jesus asks his followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That sounds really nice. Everyone likes to love and be loved. But what does it look like in practice?

When my husband and I first got married, we moved into a large apartment complex in southeast Portland. We soon met our next-door neighbors, an 18-year-old girl and her 26-year-old boyfriend. My first encounter with the girl was when she asked me if she could borrow my bicycle to ride one block to 7-11. Caught off guard by her request, I offered to drive her the one block instead.

Of course, this set up a precedent wherein she would often knock on our door asking for a ride or to borrow money or use our phone. Usually I, being a love-your-neighbor Christian, would grant her requests. Except for the times that I would pull the blinds shut and pretend not to be home.

This girl had a baby from a different daddy than her current boyfriend. Her baby was in foster care and his father was in jail. She was still in high school. She wanted her baby back. She would get him back soon, she often told me.

Her world was new to me. None of my high school friends had had babies or 26-year-old boyfriends or exes who were in jail.

Her circumstances were new to me, but the dynamics of our relationship were not. She was a Needy Person. I’d had other friends who were needy too, friends who made bad choices about drugs and promiscuous sex again and again. Friends who complained about their lives and asked for my advice and then would not listen to it. Friends who took and took and did not give back. Friends whose lives were black holes into which I tried to shine the light of Jesus.

Throughout the year, our neighbors’ problems seemed to get worse. They got jobs and lost jobs. Their car was towed due to lack of insurance. They borrowed our vacuum cleaner and gave us fleas. When they asked us for money to buy a flea bomb, we said we didn’t have cash. They asked if we could go to the bank and withdraw money. We said no.

We moved out as soon as our lease was up, quickly and quietly, without saying goodbye to them. Sadly and predictably, in the following years, I’ve been hesitant to get to know my neighbors.

What did I learn from this? I learned that loving your neighbor can be inconvenient. Sometimes you may get fleas, even though you don’t have pets. I also learned that it’s important for me to set boundaries with people. For example, I do not need to give someone a ride to a place that is within easy walking distance. I do not need to give money to someone who recently quit his or her job.

I do need to seek God’s will in my day-to-day encounters. God’s quiet voice may ask me to buy a sandwich for this panhandler or go to coffee with that friend. Or it may ask me to spend a quiet morning recharging my spirit through prayer.

In the words of theologian Frederick Buechner, “The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In order to love those around us, we first need God to fill us up with His deep gladness. The world may have an endless need for love, but thankfully God’s love is endless.

 

How do you find a balance between showing kindness to others and having boundaries?

When you look at a Pollock painting, do you see a mess that your toddler could have created? Or do you see a priceless work of art?

When you look at a Pollock painting, do you see a mess that your toddler could have created? Or do you see a priceless work of art?

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I originally wrote this as a guest post for the blog of my friend A.J. Swoboda (ajswoboda.com), pastor, theology professor and author of Messy: God Likes it That Way.

Books: Recently finished We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, 2014 PEN/Faulkner award winner. I don’t want to say too much, but it’s a great novel that explores the meaning of family, identity, and human/animal relationships. This would be a good one to discuss in a book group. I miss being in a book group!

Movies: My daughter was thrilled to discover Pocahontas 2 last week. There’s a whole different movie about Pocahontas?! Wow!

Television: Ugh, I’ve been watching too much T.V. lately — hopefully as the weather gets nicer we can spend more evenings walking or visiting the park. Been watching Masterpiece Theatre’s Mr. Selfridge, and also catching up on old Glee episodes. Glee is like junk food for my brain. Or, as Jim Gaffigan said, “McDonald’s of the soul.” I do wish people would spontaneously burst into song and dance more often in my day-to-day life though.

Music: Been enjoying the album Little Seed by Elizabeth Mitchell — covers of Woody Guthrie children’s songs.

Project: Teaching my daughter to sleep alone.

Work: Still working on the accounting & finance articles. Had an interview at a newspaper last week.

Gratitude: Took a fun trip to the beach to celebrate my daughter’s second birthday. Watched sea lions barking on a dock, visited the aquarium, enjoyed raspberry poppyseed Sweet Life cake. Stayed in a great house with my parents and mother-in-law.

Trying not to get blown over by the wind at the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Trying not to get blown over by the wind at the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

 

Looking forward to: Picking up our first CSA box this afternoon!

 

My daughter just had her second birthday. It’s been two years since I first held her tiny body in my arms, felt the gentle rise and fall of her breath. Two years since the timeline of my life split in half — before motherhood, after motherhood.

At two years old, my daughter explores the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Celebrating my daughter’s second birthday with a trip to the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

How has motherhood changed me over these two years? Or rather, how is motherhood changing me?

It has given me a new and deeper understanding of what love is. Love is patient, love is kind. Love will let you wipe your snotty nose on its clean sleeve. Love will get up with you at 11 pm and 1 am and again at 3:30 because your teeth hurt and you can’t sleep. Love isn’t grossed out by spit-up or giant poop diapers. Well maybe just a little grossed out.

I had a thought a few weeks ago, perhaps a God-revealed thought: The purpose of life is love. (Ok, I admit this is not a very original idea). If we don’t love others, we are missing the purpose. What does it matter if we’re highly successful in our careers but our lives are devoid of love? Even if we devote our lives to something altruistic, like teaching middle school, but we don’t do it in love — our lives are empty.

So, if our whole purpose for being here on this earth is to learn how to love others — well, what better opportunity than being a wife and a mother? What an opportunity to humbly serve others in love. What a high calling. What a blessing that I have been entrusted with this.

And I’m struck by how much I’ve come to love this tiny person, my daughter. At first she was a stranger who had entered my life like a hurricane, leaving me injured and bewildered. I looked forward to the day when I could go back to an office job and my normal life. But now? I’m so grateful that I have the chance to work from home and spend each day with my daughter.

I’ve always been career-driven and I still would like to have a successful career. But I know now that being a mom is the most important job I will ever have. If you’re a mom – or a dad – I hope you feel the same way.

What have you learned since becoming a parent?

 

Even in the desert, life finds a way.

Even in the desert, life finds a way.

I was going to write a post about my anxiety over our financial situation. Tax season has drawn my focus to our finances and caused muscle tension from my eyebrows to my toes. But then I remembered the gratitude journaling I’ve been doing. Counting my one thousand gifts. And I remembered the sermon I listened to yesterday, from the gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

And does this mean we should try to be last in an attempt to be first in God’s kingdom? No, the preacher says, that is not the point of this parable. The point is that there is no first and last in God’s kingdom. The point is that there is enough for all.

There is enough. There is enough for all. God’s abundant provision is enough. Our economy is based on the myth of scarcity, that there are only enough resources for a few and so we should buy more now and fill our large houses with possessions we don’t need.

What if we only took what we needed? What if instead of living in homes large enough to house an entire African village, we lived in tiny but functional homes? What if we lived simply so that others may simply live?

Over these last years of financial insecurity, God has been teaching me the importance of daily bread. We’re receiving enough for each day. We’re trying to make good choices with what we are given. We’re learning to trust. Our faith is being shaped.

When I was in Ghana, a woman told me, “We are a hungry country.” It’s true. Many Ghanaians live in tin shacks with no access to clean water. These people know what it is to suffer. I thought of how much we have in America, and how we are hungry too. We’re hungry, but we think we are full. There’s a nagging emptiness inside that cannot be filled. We try to dull it with shopping. We try antidepressants. We try eating too much, or not enough. We try creating a Facebook profile that will make our friends jealous. But it doesn’t work.

It is only when we come to the place of brokenness that we can find fulfillment. When we discover that we cannot go another day without complete dependence on God’s grace, that we are not the ones earning our daily bread but it is God who gives it to us. I have been learning this lesson. In our brokenness we are made complete.

I can be grateful for that.

 

Books: I’m currently reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. Next up on my list are the YA novel  Looking for Alaska by John Green and Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath. 

Movies: Hmmm, I rarely have time to watch movies anymore. Marie is currently fixated on Disney’s Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was really impressed with Hunchback, really a deep message for kids about inner beauty. In fact, I could probably write a whole essay about this film, but I’ll spare you that. We also watched Happy Feet last week, which is pretty cute.

Television: Downton Abbey is over and I’ve decided that Grimm is too creepy for me. So that just leaves Parks and Recreation. I like that it features strong female characters. Also I’ve been letting Marie watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a cartoon spin-off of Mr. Rogers. It’s pretty sweet, each episode has a little lesson that’s set to music. For example, “If you feel so mad that you want to roar, just take a deep breath and count to four.”

Music: I’m digging the Johnny Cash and Ella Fitzgerald children’s albums my mom recently gave us. Grandma Alice is helping Marie develop sophisticated musical tastes.

Project: Gratitude journaling.

Work: Writing a series of blog posts for accounting and finance professionals — here’s one. Haven’t subbed yet this month.

Gratitude: We just had our first vacation since 2011! A week in Palm Desert with my in-laws.

Sideview of the apparently famous Marilyn statue in downtown Palm Springs, where we encountered some colorful characters.

Sideview of the apparently famous Marilyn statue in downtown Palm Springs, where we encountered some, um, colorful characters. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

 

Fear: Carcinogens in plastics.  

Developmental milestones: Marie swam on her own (with water wings) on the last day of our vacation! Also her vocabulary has me pretty impressed. She keeps creating verbs, saying things like, “I’m get upping,” or “I’m lay downing.” Or “Pocahontas, she troubling.” Did I mention she’s obsessed with Pocahontas? Might be awhile before we let her watch that again.

Looking forward to: Watching Marie continue to develop her personality. She’s almost two. I love kids in the two – five age range because the things they say are so funny.

It’s been almost ten years and still I can’t forget. Even on vacation at a gated golf course community in the Palm Desert, I have Africa on my mind.

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

I feel her in the unrelenting beating sun. I smell her in diesel fumes, a freshly cut mango. Memories return: Guard holds an AK-47 to his chest, tells me, “Why don’t you go back home obroni.” Beggarwoman breastfeeds twins. Leper holds misshapen hand outstretched, seeking coins of mercy.

I remember: My colleague at the newspaper walks me to the station, sees there is no tro-tro for me to ride home tonight. “Tonight we will have to suffer,” she says.

I shake my head. No. I will not suffer the African way, not tonight. I have white skin and a first-world passport. “I have money for a taxi.”

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

She looks surprised, then hails one and negotiates a fair price for me, not the obroni price I usually pay. I ride safely back to the house I’m renting with other American students, the big house with running water, a security guard and wall to keep Africans out.

Africa, I remember you, the thin space where the very air is electrified with the presence of God and I barely even notice. I see the tin shacks and open sewers, the child beggars surrounding me. I still visit you in my dreams, always searching, never satisfied.

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

Depression is lonely and scary.

Depression is lonely and scary.

Mental health issues carry a stigma, but when we break the silence and talk about them openly they become less scary. I may be wrong, but I think if we’re honest, most people struggle with mental health issues to some degree at some point in their lives.

So, what’s the deal with postpartum depression? Why would a new mom, who has just welcomed a bundle of joy into the world, get depressed?

Perhaps because:

a) postpartum and nursing hormones have thrown her emotions out of whack

b) she hasn’t had more than a 90 minute stretch of sleep in several weeks/months

c) she is socially isolated

d) she has not yet formed an attachment to her newborn, and wonders “who is this helpless creature I’m now spending all my time with?”

e) she spends the vast majority of her day sitting on the couch breastfeeding

f) her body has been severely injured in the process of giving birth

e) she wonders what the f***k has happened to her life

In sum, postpartum depression is understandable. In fact, given all the above, it’s rather remarkable when a new mom doesn’t experience some degree of postpartum depression or anxiety.

For my part, I really struggled with depression and anxiety when my daughter was about 3-5 months old. I think I was coping rather well until then, despite the extreme challenges of caring for a newborn. I won’t go into the details in this post, but you can read my post about it here. Or just read the poem if you prefer.

Around three months I no longer felt like I was coping. In retrospect, several things collided to make things a giant awful mess:

1) I lost my job

2) I lost my health insurance

3) my husband started working longer hours

4) I started taking birth control

Although I had told my doctor that I was concerned about postpartum depression (because I have a history of depression) he told me I’d be fine and prescribed me birth control without warning me that it was associated with postpartum depression. Birth control never seemed to affect my moods in the past, so I thought it would be fine. I had also looked forward to going back to work part-time and reconnecting with the outside world, but I lost my job and with it lost my main link to the world beyond my apartment walls. Losing my health insurance made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to have mental health issues because I couldn’t afford access to treatment. So, it was a hard and scary time — I really began to feel like I was losing my grip.

I got through it by becoming involved in as many activities as possible. The first time I took my four- month-old to a library storytime, I almost broke down in tears because it felt so good to be outside of my apartment and around other moms and babies. That fall we also took baby sign language class, mom and baby yoga, and signed up for MOPS. Mom and baby yoga was a lifeline because it was basically a group therapy session for new moms, followed by some yoga. My husband and I also occasionally invited people over for dinners so I could still feel like I had some sort of social life.

Some facets of attachment parenting really helped me as well. One of the scariest aspects of the depression for me was not feeling much attachment to my child. Wearing her in the Ergo carrier during daily walks was incredibly comforting and helped ease my anxiety. Eventually we ended up co-sleeping too, which we still do (I wouldn’t necessarily endorse it but it definitely helps with attachment).

So that’s an abridged version of my story. Slowly I started feeling better, and at this point life feels pretty normal again. Postpartum depression and anxiety can easily happen to anyone, even if you don’t have a history of depression/anxiety. I strongly recommend all new moms join some sort of support group whether it’s MOPS, postpartum yoga, or a new moms group at the local hospital. Just being able to talk to other women who are going through a similar experience as you should be extremely helpful. Also it’s probably wise to avoid any hormonal forms of birth control.

Did you struggle with depression or anxiety after becoming a mom? How did you cope?

photo credit: Helga Weber via photopin cc