Faithfully Thinking: A little more of a little less: why the fear of missing out is killing us

Our brain was not wired to process the amount of information we throw at it on a daily basis.

The shows we watch.

The news we tune into.

The podcasts we listen to.

The social media we scroll through.

The trends and news and health warnings and even the good stuff that is aimed at growing us spiritually.

It is information over load.

Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church said it well in his sermon “why are we anxious?”

“There is no way that we can’t take it all in and still have room for the peace of God,” he said. “You’re praying for the peace of God – God doesn’t have anywhere to put it. Your mind is too full. You were not designed to have the entirety of the conversation of the whole human race buzzing on your back pocket on your butt bone. Just walking around like snipers. ‘What did they say?’ ‘Where did they go on vacation?’ ‘What about that press conference?’ It was not supposed to be this way. Of course we’re freaking out. Of course we’re zombies. Of course we’re numbing ourselves and drinking and smoking and popping. Of course we can’t stop it. The devil’s got a shock collar on our back pocket and we don’t even know it.”

We are constantly shackled to the world through our devices.  Our minds are constantly filled with digital noise.

We are listening to a new song or reading a new post or receiving notifications about who is presenting something “live” on one of our social media outlets. And while they are live we are dead inside because we can’t even hear ourselves think.

We have a constant buzz of knowledge and information in our heads. So much we can’t hear our voice, our spouse’s voice, children’s voices or more importantly God’s. 

How can God speak to us if we never shut the voices off?

Notice I say “we”  and “us.”

How can God speak to ME if I never put the phone down and stop searching for help and validation in social media instead of His Word?

Ouch. That one hurt. 

Because it’s true. 

Because it’s what I heard in my spirit today when I tried to quiet the voices and just listen. I tried to listen to what God was saying and it was hard. 

It was hard to hear His voice beyond the anxiety and the doubts and the worry and the efforts to fix it all in the twenty minutes between when I woke up and my toddler woke up.  Not too mention I tried to force myself to listen and we all know what happens when you do that: you start making grocery lists in your head and wondering how cellophane works.

But then I did have a thought, that felt a lot like a reminder to my soul; a reminder that we can’t place ourself in chaos and expect to feel peace.

There are times chaos whirls around us, out of our control. Often, though, we are in control of what sweeps us up into its current. We can step back, close computers, uninstall apps, shut off devices and quiet all the voices except His.

We can decide that less is what we need.

Less people telling us how to be a better us.

Less “motivational” posts that make us feel we’re getting this Christianity thing all wrong.

Less busyness.

Less voices whispering we need to do more.

Less of us telling ourselves we need to be everything to everyone

Less expectations.

Less running toward what we think will make us happy.

Less determination that if we just have more of what we don’t have we’ll have all we need to be happy.

Is social media all evil and no good?

Of course not.

There is good mixed in the bad but less of it can mean more of what matters to us.

More of him.

More of her.

More of them.

More laughter with them. 

More of your voice, not “theirs”.

More of hearing your soul.

More peace.

More Him.

Finding your voice

Finally finding your photography voice is both blissful and terrifying. 

There was a time I didn’t see the value in the shadows. Shadows were a nuisance and darkened what I really wanted to see. I moved all around and repositioned the pieces until everything was in the light and under my control again, just where I liked it. When I could control I felt safe, secure and free. This is true in life and in my photography.

What I failed to see for so many years was how the shadows made the light even more interesting. By jumping into the shadow and back into the light I began to appreciate the light instead of take it for granted. The shadows became a way to compliment the light and created a depth.

I found myself more willing to let go of some control and instead of making the light do what I wanted I let it be and worked with it.

What freedom there is in letting go and letting the light be light and the dark be dark and recognizing the beauty in how the two dance around and through each other – the perfect dance partners.

Things Good Photographers Do….Apparently

I’ve noticed recently, from what I see on Instagram and Facebook, a few things that good photographers (apparently) do:

Make sure there is sun flare in every single photo they take and if it isn’t there add it in Photoshop. 

Take photos of your young children in a cart at target because target is..? High end Walmart?

Take photos of your babies in sinks (don’t forget the sun flare).

Take blurry photos but say it was “free lensed” which will make it trendy.

Take photos of your children splashing in puddles.

Take black and white photos of your children looking moody behind a leaf, leaves or tree limb.

Take photos of children on a swing, from underneath, make sure the sky is blue (sunflare? why yes, please).

Take photos of a child in a field of sunflowers (don’t forget the sun flare).

Take photos of your sleeping baby dressed in vintage clothes on completely white sheets (you should probably add some sun flare… Just to be sure.).

Take a photo of your child looking soulfully out of a large window.

Take a photo of a couple very small in one corner of the frame with rolling hills behind them (yes, duh. Add sun flare).

Take a photo of your child’s face illuminated only by the light of an iPad, leappad or something with the word pad or starting with the letter “I.”

Any other things good photographers should do? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. I may have done one or two of these things. *wink* except adding sun flare that wasn’t already there.

How social media sucks my life from me and why detoxes from it are needed

I’m sure some will say I’m being over dramatic and maybe they will say I just need some will power but each day I find myself having to admit what I’ve read about the addictive nature of social media is true.

One day this week, I found myself obsessed with why my blog posts weren’t updating to my business page but instead to my personal page. I was searching support pages, asking in a photography group and becoming moyre and more agitated. In the meantime my dog had slipped out of the back fence and was wandering the neighborhood and the time table for us to leave for my parents before my daughter hit nuclear meltdown before nap time was shrinking.

I had to retrieve the dog from across the street, where he could have been hit. Our plans for the rest of the day were scrapped in exchange for a nap for the almost 2- year old tornado  when we might could have left earlier and snagged the nap at my parents if I had been focused on dressing us and getting out the door and not social media. I had also been checking my Instagram account.

My obsession with my Facebook page and social media in general, not too mention my attempt to promote my photography business, was throwing my day and life off schedule, I told myself. That’s when I set up the extension on Google Chrome that lets me block sites and promptly blocked Facebook.

Enough is enough I decided. I needed my life back. I needed to get my priorities straight. One of the first ways for me to do this was to quiet all the voices yelling at me through my newsfeed. Are all those voices bad? Not all, no. Many of the messages I read on Facebook and social media are positive.

The issue is the volume of voices. They twist my head back and forth and speed up my heart as I always feel I am a step behind in my faith, my health, my parenting, my life in general.

Is Facebook evil? I don’t believe so but I do believe it can take over our life if we let it and even without us realizing it. Before we know it voices whisper to us we are not as good as someone else in our circle of friends or our chosen profession because we see their highlights day after day in our newsfeed. We don’t see the sad days, the tough moments, their feelings of failure, their insecurities, unless we read between the lines of their shares of elaborate vacations, school accomplishments, and career successes. We know they have those bad days but somehow all we can see is the good and for some reason all we can hear is someone telling us we don’t measure up and we never will.

Even if I am not feeling inadequate by what I read, I do feel like I miss out on a lot of important and in between moments in my life by wasting time scrolling through news feeds and images of the lives of others. While reading about how to improve traffic to my site and therefore my business, I may have missed my daughter smiling at me and trying to get me to smile back or maybe I made my 9 year old son feel like he shouldn’t interrupt me for a hug and a story about his school day.

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the moments I’ve missed in the lives of my children because of my addiction to likes. I enter photo contests on Facebook and find myself disappointed if I didn’t receive as many likes on my photo as someone else did on theirs. How many times have I subconsciously based my worth as a photographer, and as a person, on how many fewer likes or comments I have? Too many times is the answer.

Prior to this latest wake up call, I had been having other wake up calls to the pitfalls of social media and about a month ago I detoxed from all social media for four days. When I came back on I reduced the time I spent on it and also implemented a new personal policy that I would only check social media after I had done my devotions in the morning. My devotions consist of reading my The Upper Room and Joseph Prince devotional apps.

I also removed the Facebook and Twitter applications from my phone and blocked Facebook through my phone internet browser settings. I kept Instagram because the interaction I have with fellow photographers there is positive and less about comparison. To me it feels more like a community than Facebook.

At that time I decided if I was going to be on Facebook at all I would use that time not to just click like on posts or photographs by family and friends and those in photography groups or pages but instead work to leave encouraging comments whenever possible. Not only would this take the focus off the negative and the underlying feelings of comparison for me but I hoped, and still do hope, it will force me to look beyond myself, my tendency to whine about situations, and help others to feel like they aren’t alone and that their words and art matter. Anyone who knows me personally knows

I failed at this challenge recently when I used an entire paragraph to whine about my failed photography business so I am, by no means, perfect. I take solace in knowing I am not alone in falling to the temptation Facebook naturally creates to complain. In addition I recognize we all have bad days, sometimes feel the need to vent and share our bad times with our friends. We can’t barf rainbows all day long after all.

If you have read this far, I hope you will understand that I am not suggesting you need to change your social media habits simply because I am. I don’t believe every person who signs up for a social media account is or will become, addicted. I do believe some of us have more addictive personalities than others and therefore need to put stop gaps in place to prevent ourselves from losing sight of what is truly important in our life.

Tips for a social media break or reduction that I’ve gathered personally or from others :

  • Turn off notifications in the settings of the social media aps on your phone to keep you from feeling the need to check your social media all day long (if it’s an emergency I would hope family and friends would call instead of text);
  • Turn off the notifications you receive in your email from social media outlets, which are another way they are trying to pull you into their world and subsequently push advertising at you, for one, but also keep you addicted. Again, not saying they are evil, but it’s necessary for their business to keep people coming back. It’s more of a business strategy than a malicious one, in other words
  • Set a timer whenever you use social media so you won’t find yourself wasting time on it. Do what you want to do there and get out, in other words
  • Set up two accounts on your computer, one for personal use and one for work and use a site blocking extension like Blocksite to block social media sites on your work account.
  • Remove your social media applications from your phones and digital devices. If you simply can’t stop wasting time on Facebook or Twitter when you should be doing something else, then it is time to go cold turkey and drop the aps completely. Yes, you will experience withdrawal but you will make it. There is a good possibility what you wanted to share wasn’t that important after all.
  • Replace your online “socializing” with in person socializing. Call some friends and ask to meet some of them for lunch. Maybe you and your spouse could use all that free time you now have to reconnect (emotionally and *wink* physically)
  • Fill the time you used to spend on Facebook with a hobby, journaling, reading, exercising, cooking, earning a degree at your local college

You don’t have to quit social media cold turkey or all together. There are benefits in simply setting time limits or enacting week long detoxing sessions. Some of the benefits I noticed after even my short detox:

 

  • better focus and a clearer mind
  • accomplished more during by the day on a personal and business level
  • less stressed. when I avoided getting sucked in to mindless scrolling it kept me on schedule for tasks that needed to be done at certain times, like waking the baby up early so she naps before I have to pick my son up at the bus stop or starting dinner so it will be done before my son’s karate class.
  • my children were less stressed because I was not only less rushed but more focused on them and their needs
  • less anxiety. I wasn’t bombarded with either political negativity or articles reminding me what foods and medicines are going to kill me or my children or even articles suggesting I need to pray more (those articles are not bad but I have a guilty personality and feel constantly condemned. Yes I am aware that’s not good and yes, it is an issue God is addressing in me and yes, I’ll probably write a blog post about it someday. You’ve been warned.)

In case you need even more incentive to break your social media addiction, articles about breaking social media addictions which encouraged (naysayers will say brainwashed) me:

http://jasondoesstuff.com/social-media-detox-recap/

http://mashable.com/2014/08/09/summer-social-media-detox/#5K29iHxoqiqT

 

https://stevecorona.com/how-30-days-without-social-media-changed-my-life

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/social-media-addiction/

A book for moms that really encouraged me to back away from social media, though I apparently forgot its’ points recently, was The UnWired Mom – Choosing to Live Free in an Internet Addicted World

Lisa R. Howeler is a wife and mom living in a small town located in northern Pennsylvania, less than a mile from the New York State border. She is a photographer, writer, chocolate lover, and one of those Jesus freaks your mama warned you about. Find her online at http://www.lisahoweler.com; www.instagram.com/lisahoweler; and Facebook, when she’s not detoxing from it,  www.facebook.com/lisahoweler.

Whose kid is that?! | Sayre, Pennsylvania Child Photographer

I just couldn’t believe the sight of that tiny toddler body laying flat on her face at the end of the checkout line in silent protest of her unwillingness to move where her mother wanted her to go. Wow. What drama. Whose child was this?  That mother must be so embarrassed.

Oh wait.

That was my child laying motionless and whimpering on the floor at Walmart and I wasn’t embarrassed. In fact I laughed when I peeled her off the floor and gently placed her against my shoulder, only to have her squirm away and back to the floor so she could push the cart by herself, sqwakingin protest if her brother and I tried to help.

I don’t laugh every time Little Miss shows her sassy, temperamental side, which is more and more these days, but I’ve been starting to accept that this is the new normal for a bit as we careen toward birthday number two. The acceptance is coming only through a lot of prayers, many uttered through gritted teeth and beginning with my mom’s favorite phrase “Lord, give me strength.” So far I’ve been able to mostly avoid dragging my hand across my forehead or through my hair like Mom does when she says those words but if you see me one day and my hair in the front is frizzed and sticking up you’ll know it was one of those days I lost sight of some of my resolve and God-given peace. .

Embracing the role of motherhood

For 13 years when someone asked what I did for a living I said “I’m a newspaper reporter”.  It made me feel like I had accomplished something in life. Four years of college, a degree, and a job in what I went to college for. I was a contributing member of society. I was a public servant, informing the community. I was important, at least in some small way, or so I thought.

Then I burned out on the news and, really, on people. I left newspapers, convinced my love for photography would translate into a successful business. Then I could say “I’m a photographer”

I left the paper for two reasons: to be home with my son and to start a photography business. When the photography business never happened I was left with . . .being a mom because in my mind I wasn’t a photographer if I didn’t have a business, which, of course, I now know isn’t true.

Just a mom.

Just.

A.

Mom.

I couldn’t imagine having to answer the question of what I did for a living with “I’m a mom. JUST a mom.”

As a kid, I’d never imagined myself a mom. I’d always pictured myself traveling the world as a writer and photojournalist.

My mom was “just a mom” and I had never looked down on her for that so I had no idea why being “just a mom” filled me with a feeling of personal failure.

Why was it bothering me so much to be “just a mom”?

I think the society we live in today, especially in the United States, tells moms that being a mom isn’t enough. The idea that being a mom is the best job a woman can have is very popular but only if a person can say “I’m a writer but I’m also a mom and that’s the most important job I have.”

If a woman can only say “I’m a mom. It’s all I do” I believe many look at her as if to say “is that really all you do?”

Last year I sought out a natural doctor for some health issues I’ve been having. She asked me what I did in my spare time. I started to tell her I was a mom so I don’t have much spare tome and she interrupted me “but what do you do for you?” I photograph my children in what I feel is an artistic way and told her but she shook her head in disapproval and I immediately felt that shame at being “just a mom”. Here was another woman, maybe even a mother herself, reminding me that I needed to be more than a mom. I needed to do something more with my life. I couldn’t just be a mom.

Other women shame each other into believing they need to be more than a mom but I don’t believe God desires there to be any shame felt when a woman’s sole job, so to speak, is “just being a mom.”

I’m working on accepting this title of mom, which I know sounds weird since I’ve been one for almost a decade.

I’m practicing saying “I’m a mom,” and not needing to add after it “And I am also a photographer.”

For me, photography isn’t a job, and I don’t want it to be. It’s part of who I am in the same way being “just a mom” is part of who I am and who I always will be.
 

Trying to be still and remember He is God

Some days life is all topsy turvy. The world seems upside down and turned around these days. What was once up is now down and what was once frowned upon is now applauded. Those who say they love children and babies only protect them once they are born, not before. Those who say they support women don’t support them if suggest we respect ourselves by not dressing inappropriately. Those who say they respect life are murdering others. The other day every story in my Facebook newsfeed seemed to want to remind me of what foods and vitamins can kill me and what my children shouldn’t be doing that I once did because now it’s dangerous instead of fun. (Side note: I’m on a Facebook break for my sanity).

It makes my head hurt and the other day it found me shutting off Instagram and FB and just about literally huddled in a fetal position while I nursed my daughter to sleep for her nap (by the way, I’m not supposed to be doing that either, whether it feels right and natural to me or not). I closed my eyes against the tears and all the voices in my head and I heard a still small voice say “Be still.” That was weird. I said, “Huh? Why did that thought pop into my head?” It sort of creeped me out, but I heard the words again. “Be still.” And I then I heard, “Be still and know that I am God.”

It happened again a few days later as my mind raced with worry about another situation I’m currently facing. I kneeled to wash my daughter’s hair and as my thoughts raced from worry to worry to worry I heard the words “Be still..” again…

I often tell God, “Lord, I am awful at being still, at least as far as my mind goes. You know this. Yet you still urge me to remember that you are God. You are in control of my finances. You are in control of my health and that of my children. You are in control of the world, even when it seems out of control. Please, help me to not forget and please keep placing those words in my mind.”

Psalm 46:9-11 “…9He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. 10″Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 11The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.”

Letters to my Son January | Athens, Pennsylvania Child Photographer

When I look at this photo of you I see a little boy who has my heart completely and has since the day I first learned you were growing inside me. I see your brilliance, your wit, your charm, your amazing ability to look at almost any situation in a positive light. How hard it must be for you to have been given parents who sometimes lean too much toward the negative yet God gave you the gift of compassion and encouragement because he knew we would need to be reminded. 

You wanted to cross the entire bridge that day but daddy and I were tired and said “no.” I wish I had said yes. I don’t ever want to limit you in your dreams or your goals. I don’t ever want to slow you down.

Your future is so wide open and though I often want to keep you close to my side, tucked under my arm, I know I’ll someday have to let you walk the path there on your own.

Before we know it it will be spring and I hope we go back to that bridge because we are going to walk all the way across it together.