The mechanical toys were very superior, and they looked down upon everyone else. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel very insignificant and commonplace and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse. --The Velveteen Rabbit
Fourth in a series
This is the part of my journey that is most difficult to write, to share. About six weeks into the project, I had to come face to face to what was really tormenting me. My children are growing up so fast. It's astonishing to me how quickly the time has passed. When I began "the new habit project," I sifted through old columns and set them aside to post while I was away. I enjoyed reading them so much! I enjoyed re-living the moments they captured. I found myself wishing for that girl again. That girl--the one who wrote about ten years ago--that was the real girl I knew and loved. But where did she go? Why did she feel so elusive? And oh, what have I done to allow something, anything, to take her away and leave in her place an exhausted blob of a person who doesn't have nearly the idealism and enthusiasm as the girl she was? I don't want to be thirty again. I'm not looking to turn back the hands of time. But I want to take hard-earned wisdom and marry it to the positive optimism I once had in such abundance.
I sat today to write all about how I've restructured my time and my perception of the online world. but then I realized I've already written it. Nothing has changed really since those three pieces. Kind Conversation is new since then. It has a very tightly defined mission statement and I hold myself to it. Not everyone needs this kind of definition. I do. I use Kind Conversation as my portal to Twitter and Facebook, updating from there because being there holds me to that standard and the prompt is phrased in such a way that I am reminded to promote a culture of respect, dialogue, and friendship. I give social networking--Facebook, Kind Conversation, Twitter--no more than one hour a week total. I set a timer. I keep track. I have to in order to guard the precious, precious time I have. There was a time when I spent more than 20 hours a week nurturing a message board. I honestly believed I was doing the right thing. I was grateful for a ministry opportunity that allowed me to share this lifestyle without leaving my home. I invested my heart into the women there with all good intentions. In my sharing though, I traded the lifestyle. I gave away so much of myself that I lost the real. Struggles on the internet have yielded at last to an insight about myself for which I am very, very grateful. I see that for me, in this season, I need to look away from the computer and sharply limit my conversations there. I can attribute the insight, the resolve, and the ease with which I can keep those resolutions only as a blessing of this time of intense prayer and fasting.
Right around the time I was wondering where all this was leading and why peace was so elusive, I got an email from a friend who was inquiring on behalf of her friend. She was wondering how we decided to go ahead and try to conceive after chemotherapy and radiation. The gist of her question was whether we had researched and worried about the effect of chemo on my ovaries and the precious cargo therein.
I don't let myself go there too much because it's really a waste of emotional energy. Christian was conceived in 1991. Six months after I finished chemo and radiation, I asked my oncologist about getting pregnant. He said it would probably take awhile to conceive but that if i could, he thought it highly likely I'd live to raise my child. We conceived that night. I didn't go home from that doctor's appointment and consult the internet. There was no internet access. I didn't get bogged down in medical studies or anecdotal reports on message boards or anything else. I trusted my doctor medically and then I trusted my husband with my life and the life of our child. That's the way our marriage works. We gathered expert information and then asked the Holy Spirit. We discerned that it was God's will to be open to conception and we were.
Wow! The biggest decision of our lives and that's the way we made it. Actually, we consulted two priests as well; both of them celebrated Christian's baptism nine months later. We have continued to make that decision that way for all these years. As my childbearing years come to a close, I am profoundly sad. I wish there more more babies. But I am also consoled by the fact that I know we have been open to every single one of them. I used to say (until very recently) that I have no regrets about these years. Now, I see that I do. I most definitely do.
I regret the way I allowed what I read on the internet to influence my life at home.
The thing that has changed is that now I look on those heavily- influenced- by- the- 'net years and my regret is not that I let my children play with felted fairies. My regret is that while they were happily engaged, I entertained countless conversations with women on the internet. And I let their opinions, their judgments, and their understanding of the faith color mine. Over time, the real me was rubbed away and what was left was a facsimile that was further from the image God I was created to be than I ever thought possible.
I regret that I made school decisions, house decisions, even clothing decisions in a way that was so counter to the way we made childbearing decisions. And I definitely regret the time I spent "consulting" about such things. I have always taken the gift of time very seriously. I regret that I wasted time online. I regret that I allowed online conversations to rob my family of the wife and mother God intended for them. Those were the years the locusts ate.
"I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter" (Matthew 12:36)
My experience with social networking isn't a unique one. It isn't universal either. It is what it is and I am where I am. The internet can be a tool for the good. It can be a font of community, prayer, and genuine support. And it can be a tool for evil mischief. Some people can engage in online banter or vigorously debate an online correspondent and click the computer shut and walk away, no better or worse for the exchange. Not me. I carry it around in my head. I laugh about it. I cry about it. I mentally write responses to it in the shower. I feel it. I live it. Some wounds run deep. And for those of us who feel those wounds, who struggle still to let Him heal those wounds, internet conversations can be a place of peril.
Let's bring the cancer thought to its completion. When I first got online, I joined a Hodgkin's survivor's group. At least I thought it was a Hodgkin's survivor's group. It was an email list that actually included survivors and people in active treatment. The week I joined, someone died. The first three days, there were graphic reports from his wife, delineating in detail his suffering. There were all kinds of posts second guessing his treatment, and everyone else's treatment. There were conflicting reports of longterm survival and early demise. There was utter confusion and despair in almost every thread. It was the blind leading the blind and they were all going some place very bad. On the fourth day, the man died. I unsubscribed. I was about 7 years out of treatment at that point and I'd avoided groups all that time. I knew myself well enough to know that I would take everyone else's experiences and make them mine. I'd feel their pain, live in fear of their struggles, share their confusion, and empathize so thoroughly that I'd never recover. That's who I am. That's how I'm made.
And I knew myself better than to do that. I don't believe that positive thinking can cure cancer, but I do believe that negative thinking can seriously compromise recovery. Recovery is too precious to me to risk. Ever. I am sure that there are very nice, medically sound cancer support groups out there online somewhere. Do I want to risk stumbling around in the negative ones until I find a positive one? Not really.
About a year later, pregnant with Stephen and feeling so happy and full of life, I found a Hodgkin's message board. I had one purpose: I'd get on and share the joy. I would shout to the world the good news of recovery. It just so happened that on that very day a dad was doing research for his daughter. He asked if anyone had every gotten pregnant following treatment, since she'd been told it would be nearly impossible. Oh yes! Someone had! I was expecting my fourth post-cancer baby. Wasn't that grand and glorious news? To my dismay, people started weighing in on how what I was saying couldn't be true. How "irresponsible" it was to raise her hopes. How I really shouldn't gloat on a board where so many people were suffering. And my joy? It was awash in tears of rejection and fear. Never again with that kind of board. Ever.
Over time, I settled into a Catholic homeschooling mama niche online. Mostly, the conversations were very enlightening and very friendly.It takes hours and hours to form relationships online and I invested those hours. All was well with the conversations there. Except when they snuffed out the joy. I didn't recognize it at first. Hah! I didn't recognize it at second or third or... Instead of clicking away, I tried to see the perspective of these "other people out there who must know so much more about God than me." I tried to believe their perspective. I formed my opinions and changed my mind according to the ideas and "authority" of people online, rather than using the discernment process of ageless wisdom. I listened and empathized and believed and felt until I wasn't even me anymore. I knew more and more about religion and I spent less and less time with Jesus. And the joy? Gone.
Anyway, I was slow to see the same dynamic as on the cancer board. Now I do. Now I know where the places are that I must avoid in order to guard and preserve my own interior peace. And there are lots of them. Apparently, I am a bit hypersensitive in this regard.This experience is mine alone. Why then, do I share it?
Because confession is good for the soul.
Because in writing I can begin to make sense of it for myself. Because the mere fact that I am able to write again means that there is healing. I stopped blogging because the voices of the people who would rob my joy had grown so loud that I couldn't hear myself think.
I shut it all down. And there was quiet.
The good news is that I found God there. I have quieted the voices of other people that have pelted my thoughts for so long and when I stopped hearing them, I heard Him.
Only God can love me back to real. Well, God and the sweet family with whom He has abundantly blessed me.
The whole series: