Friday, October 7, 2016

Listening and Learning

It's been a bit quiet here on my blog lately, probably because it's been a bit quiet in my life lately. Since I was 12 weeks pregnant I've had some sort of terrible rib and back pain that's kept me from doing a lot of the things that I typically do. I'm also not teaching this semester for the first time in a few years, and this combination of hurting ribs/back and no classes has left me with a lot of time for counseling and thinking.

It's an interesting thing to be a counselor of children and teenagers and to have a first baby on the way yourself. I love counseling kids and working with their parents, but before it seemed like we had two distinct roles--you are a parent and I am a counselor. Now it feels like I'm somewhere in between. I honestly feel like I must've worked with some of the nicest parents in the world over the past couple of years and it's such an honor to me that they chose me to help with their kids. I've always tried to show my clients, particularly the parents, the respect of learning from them and trying to keep the important lessons they learn in my heart for when the time comes that I need them myself. I find myself doing this now more than ever.

It's interesting to sit in Bible study with moms and just be quiet and listen. They talk about a lot of things that clients' parents have talked with me about over the years, but somehow I hear it all in a new way. It's definitely the quietest I've ever been in a Bible study and I think I like it like that for now. It's good to be quiet and listen sometimes.

People, all the people in my life, have just been so nice and happy for me and Will. It's been the absolute best time. But sometimes people say things that can be overwhelming. Sleep now BECAUSE YOU'LL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN!!! You think you're hurting now JUST WAIT IT WILL ONLY GET WORSE!!! You're not going to have any money EVER AGAIN!!! You'll never have time to speak to your husband EVER AGAIN!!! What cheerful news, I think! Thank you!

And so many questions. Where will she sleep when she comes home from the hospital? What will she eat? What will she wear? What is your birth plan? How the heck am I supposed to know the personal preferences of this little lady who I have never met? But I do know I'd better figure it out because apparently if I put her in the wrong sleeping vessel it will ruin completely everything and no one in the whole house will sleep until she's six.

In all truth, I really don't know the first thing about being a mom yet and I'm ok with that. But it seems to me, that like most everything else, there is an awful lot of noise surrounding motherhood. So so so many books and blogs and opinions. And so much of it is really good, really useful information. But I can truly say that never in my life have I been so glad to know the Lord. I am so thankful that I've got some practice at listening for His voice, and I'm getting better at picking it out from the rest of the noise.  I'm so thankful that I've tried to walk with Him for a while now, and that I have some experience with Him guiding me through things that were foreign to me. He's done it before--certainly He will again.

I find a lot of rest in the fact that the outcome of little girl's life doesn't depend on her sleeping arrangement, whether or not I make her food or buy it, what I register for, or her infant fashion. I pray so many things for her, but it doesn't even depend on me praying perfectly perfect prayers. What a great relief to know a God who loves her more than I ever could, and who has a special life planned out just for her. And I really don't know if I'd be feeling such peace about this if I wasn't having to do so much sitting still. So maybe my breaking back hasn't been all bad.

The past few months have been one of the happiest and most perplexing times of my life. Will and I couldn't be a bit more happy or thankful, and our families and friends have been so wonderful. I think I'll always remember it as one of my favorite times, ever.

I've been doing some work on taking more pictures lately (or having other people take them) and here are a few.

We found out I was pregnant the morning we left for our big trip to Charleston and Savannah in May. The timing couldn't have been better and the whole trip felt like a celebration. I'm really glad we took that trip when we did, because please see above where I've learned we're destined to be poor forever and always. After registering, I've determined there may be a lot of truth to this. Also, perhaps I should've had a moment of silence over fitting into those small shorts on this day, because oh how times have changed. 

Our friends Casey and Chesney were so nice to take some special pictures for us, and I'm so happy to have these. We couldn't leave big brother Charlie out, even though he found it hard to look normal. 

We had a little gender reveal party for just our parents and siblings and it was one of my favorite days of life. Will and I already knew it was a girl, because if you know me at all you know that sort of information isn't something I'm trying to find out for the first time on a public platform. And I'm not sorry for holding Charlie as though he's our first child in these pictures. 

In moving forward with my new attempt at picture taking I've already scheduled some Christmas card pictures for the end of November. Who can even know what I'll be looking like at that point? I guess I'll have to live in suspense. 

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Teens and Social Media

I recently wrote an article about teens and social media use for Hometown Magazine. Hometown is a really neat magazine that has a publication specific to the Clinton, Brandon, Madison, Brookhaven, and Rankin County areas. I laughed at myself when I was writing it, because I sound so very serious. But in all honesty, it is a serious topic. I don't have a pre-teen or teenager of my own yet, but I can't begin to count the number of clients that I've seen who've had problems with social media use. It's absolutely one of the most common issues that I see. The name of this article is teens and social media, but really it's a good idea for us to all check in with ourselves from time to time and make sure we're using social media in a way that's healthy and positive. 

I doubt you will be able to read the picture of this article very well, so here it is!

Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter—there are too many social media sites out there to count, and the number is continuously growing. Teens make up a large percentage of social media users, with many young people first receiving a phone at ages as young as 10 or 11 and with many kids receiving a tablet or laptop at an even younger age. When used appropriately, social media can be positive—a low pressure way to encourage peers, a great way to keep up with distant friends and family, and a fun way to share good news. However, as a counselor I have seen social media use become a negative thing for teens far too often— sending and receiving inappropriate pictures, viewing inappropriate content, taking part in dangerous conversations, cyber bullying, and phone addiction are just a few of the issues that I see daily.

Considering this information, it may be easy for a parent to think, “Well, they just cant have a phone EVER,” but that isnt realistic or necessary. Social media use doesnt have to be a big, scary issue—it’s just one of many areas where your teen needs some guidance. Im so encouraged by all the teens I know who do use social media in a way thats healthy and age appropriate, and by following a few guidelines, parents can make sure theyre steering their kids in the right direction:

Communicate clear expectations. This includes setting some ground rules. In the same way that you wouldnt let your young teen make his or her own rules regarding who they spend time with, when they do their homework, or what time they go to bed, its important that you also provide clear rules regarding social media use. Some of these rules might include not allowing certain apps until a particular age, designating certain times as phone times, not allowing your child to take their phone to bed with them at night, and having an absolute zero tolerance policy for any sort of inappropriateness or unkindness towards others. By clearly establishing these expectations when your child is young and sticking to them, you communicate a high standard of accepted behavior.

Remember, in the same way that youre in charge of your home, youre in charge of your teens phone and computer.  This means that in the same way your teen receives consequences for breaking rules in real life, they receive consequences for breaking rules when online. Determine what these consequences will be and stick to them.

Be involved. In the same way that you are involved in your teens real life activities and friendships, be involved in their social media activities. Theres little that alarms me more than hearing a parent say, “Well, I dont know what shes doing on that phone. I just know shes on it constantly.” You certainly dont have to track his or her every move, but have an idea of what your teen enjoys doing while on their phone or computer. Know what apps they have, how they work, and follow your child on each form of social media. Know who theyre talking to and what sites they like to spend time on.

You dont have to do these things like a spy waiting for your child to mess up. Be interested and involved in all your teens friendships, activities, and interests. Be excited about the things that make them excited. Engage them in fun conversations. Assume good from them until you learn otherwise. This way, it feels only natural for you to show interest in their online activities as well, instead of like youre trying to catch them doing something wrong.

Privacy is a privilege, not a right. I am all for giving teens an age appropriate amount of privacy and independence, but a phone is not a diary or journal. Its a device that will allow your teen to be in touch with literally any other person in the world at any time of the day or night, and if youre going to give a 13-year-old that sort of access, its wise to check in on them from time to time. Establish early on that you have the right to look at their phone occasionally, and do so as you feel is needed. Know the passwords to their email and social media accounts. Listen to your instincts—if you feel like somethings wrong, theres a good chance youre right. Check a young teens online activity occasionally to make sure theyre not headed towards a potentially inappropriate situation. As your teen gets older and consistently demonstrates responsible online behavior, you can back off on checking in on them as frequently.

Set a good example. Ultimately, your example speaks more loudly than any rules you set ever will. If youre checking your Instagram every fifteen minutes, using Facebook as a means to engage in conflict with others regarding your many opinions, or constantly comparing your life to pictures that you see others post, youre setting an example that your child will certainly feel free to follow. Make sure that youre using social media in a positive, uplifting way. Make sure that youre uplifting others in general instead of letting your teen hear you gossip or treat others unkindly.

Ultimately, these guidelines really arent about setting and enforcing strict rules. Theyre about guiding your teen toward becoming a person of character—someone who treats others with kindness, respects boundaries, and represents his or her self with integrity, whether online or in the real world. Social media isnt bad in itself, and you wont ever be able to protect your teen from all the bad in the world or control everything they do. However, you can do your best to point them towards positive experiences that help them become people of character. Go out of your way to encourage experiences that help build your teen up—such as positive friendships, school activities, involvement in a church youth group, or any good activity that helps keep them from spending all their free time staring at their phone.  Always strive to create a warm, open relationship with them so that they know youll be there for them, even if they do make a mistake.

Thanks for reading!


Friday, February 5, 2016

Just a Little Dust in My Lungs

If you know me well, then you know Will and I have spent a lot of time fixing up our house over the past year and a half. We’ve had many adventures, many messes, and even a few holes in the wall along the way. It’s been so much work and at times I thought it would never come together, but it has ultimately been so rewarding to take a house that seemed kind of lifeless at first and turn it into a home for a family. I feel like the process has taught me a lot about hope, but that is a sentimental tale for another time.

Let me be very clear about this- when I say “fixing up our house” we are not talking about major DIY construction here. I think the true DIY life might be the end of me. We have to pay cash money to have walls knocked out and floors installed and such. But it seems that the more we experience we gain the braver we get. There is a certain freedom that comes with purchasing a house built in 1983. You start asking yourself things like, “Can I really make these baby food colored, textured walls look any worse?” You might really think about it and answer yourself, “No. No, I cannot make this situation one bit worse.” Which might bring you to a place and time such as this:

Our bathrooms are BY FAR the part of the house that still need the most work. We are planning to pay a professional type person to help us with fixing up the hall bathroom sometime this spring, but we decided to do a little mini-makeover ourselves on our master bathroom to tide us over until we can get some real work done (I’m being very generous with the word “master”, as prior to the makeover there wasn’t anything particularly masterful about that room).

The walls in that bathroom are CRAZY. I think someone started trying to sand the texture off, but gave up and just left it on the big wall. The other three walls don’t look great, but the first step was getting the texture off that last wall. So this happened:

Only one human could physically fit in the bathroom to do this, and that person had to do a lot of standing on rickety surfaces, so the smaller of the two people in our house got nominated for the job. Will helped me get it all set up and the sanding didn’t take very long at all, though I did have to run out of the room for air for my livelihood on multiple occasions. I also may have coughed and sneezed baby food colored dust for a couple of days, but I consider that a small price to pay for beauty.

Next we painted, then Will hung a million things on the wall using a drill device and level device. The result was this:

Since I proceed with the caution of an elderly person or a person living in 2004 when using social media (A practice that more people might want to consider? Hmm…), I was hesitant to post this picture on Facebook and Instagram. But I got the nicest compliments when I did and even more compliments in real life.

And the more compliments I got, the funnier the whole thing seemed to me. Because apparently people think that picture looks really great, but here is the thing—I tricked you by only taking a picture of the part that looks really good. Not that I’m not happy with how it turned out, because I love it, but you can’t see that the walls still don’t look great, that the cabinet door won’t shut, the strange empty space underneath one side of the vanity, the floor, the TAN bathtub, and a number of other problems that will one day need professional attention. Not that this picture is a lie, because that part really does look great and the whole thing looks a million times better. But you just can’t see the whole story.

And as often as I talk with my clients and students about how “comparison is a game we will always lose” and such, something about this situation made it really hit home with me. Because how often do I look at a picture of a beautiful house, a lovely early morning devotion scene, or a healthy meal and think, even just a little, about how I don’t measure up? Or maybe I don’t look at a literal picture, but notice a tiny piece of someone else’s life and I starting wondering, “Just what the heck am I doing with myself?” It’s easy to forget that we aren’t seeing the whole picture. We might trick ourselves into thinking that the tiny piece of the picture is the whole thing.

I don’t share this to cause you to wonder whether a person is misrepresenting his or herself on social media. I can’t possibly know a person’s motives, and that really isn’t the point here at all. Besides, it’s fun to share things that we like or that make us happy. Instead, I wonder what if we didn’t think so much about what we see from others at all? What if we didn’t stop to compare our houses, our spiritual lives, our fitness, or ourselves in general? What if we just thought “Oh, that’s pretty” or “Oh, how fun” or “That’s really great for them” and went on about our own business after that without thinking about all the ways we don’t measure up? After all, there are probably some pretty pictures in each of our own lives too.

And it only took me getting a little dust in my lungs to figure all this out.