filters for our words, part two

This forum is so immediate. Not like the “old days” when reaching an audience of more than a couple of friends was a very big deal and took time.

Social media has been kind of a gift to me. You, too?

I ride the fence of introvert/extrovert, so it’s the perfect blend of safe and risky. I get to ponder my words, instead of self-consciously searching and stumbling over my imperfect mouth . . .

No, I don’t always think through what I post on social media — I can be just as reactionary or impulsive as anyone — so I don’t want you to think every word is calculated and weighed, because . . . frankly . . . well . . . It isn’t.

But here, on this blog, I have to take time to process and pray. Because I could inflict a lot of damage on my home.

I started blogging two and a half years ago, and I visit this question every time I post: where is the line between what is helpful for the reader and harmful for my family? Which might explain a little of why I blog so infrequently . . . it’s a pretty effective filter.

But over and over, God makes it clear to me that people need to know that drug addiction isn’t just for dark alleys and crack shacks, that drug addiction is as possible for a pastor as it is for a prostitute, AND that it’s possible for a family to be ripped to shreds by the nightmare of drug addiction and yet make it out the other side intact.

The problem is, though, so much of this is really Dave’s story to tell.

So, I show Dave the things I write about him and let him decide if it’s too much. Because if it were reversed, if I was the pill addict who dragged him through hell over and over until one day I was done with that life forever — I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to read the ugly past through his eyes. I think everything in me would just shrivel and hide.

And yet . . . it was the secrets that had us buried in shame. When the closet door was opened and the skeleton fell out, relief of release came in waves concurrent with the pain. It wasn’t long before we wanted to share this freedom, give warnings about the pitfalls of pills, AND hope of recovery and grace.

God has used Dave already to reach so many people — many because he was willing for me to write about the hard things here.

However, being so vocal, even guardedly, isn’t for every relationship. It definitely wasn’t always like this for us.  He had a few years of recovery before we put our story out into cyberspace.

In “real life,” I made it a practice long ago not to talk negatively about Dave to people. Not because he’s faultless, but simply because it’s how I want him to treat me — as  person who makes mistakes. It’s a good rule of love.

But I want to make an important distinction here, though, because I erred on the side of silence for too many years.

I had to find balance. Hiding your pain and suffering alone, and airing your grievances with your husband to everyone you know are two extremes of the openness spectrum. If your husband is an addict or abusive, you need to get help.  Tell a friend, counselor, recovery group, sister, police officer, lawyer — keep asking until you get actual help. Venting to your 300 “closest” friends on Facebook, on the other hand, can be extremely destructive and defeating. Maybe not for you, but definitely for an addict in recovery. It’s just not a safe place to share. Not remotely.

I do believe there is nothing more powerful than hearing/reading how someone else gets it and you are not alone. But if you value your loved one’s recovery and want them to succeed, caution is critical.

If Dave is uncomfortable with the amount of “my truth” I share on the stage of life, filtering my words about him, through him, is the most loving thing, and the least I can do with the story that is just as much about him as it is about me. Words can wait.

Some writers can do truth-telling without tearing down their home. They’ve calculated the cost and are carefully walking the tightrope of saying enough to help others while protecting their family. I respect that. My short time in this forum is showing me it takes great discipline to walk that line. Discipline & restraint — things I’m not so good at with a keyboard in front of me.

Over the last month, as I’ve worked on our story, I’ve really had to sift. And sift. And weigh. And sift. And even invite a few people — including Dave — into the writing to help me weed out not just words destructive to Dave, but others as well.

This forum is so immediate. Not like the “old days” when reaching an audience of more than a couple of friends was a very big deal and took time. To actually send words off to someone you had to care enough — and care long enough — to grab a pen, paper, envelope, call and get an address, drive to the post office, buy a stamp and mail it. Time. Time to consider and weigh. And to share with the world? Getting published took years — and editors. Filters, filter, filters.

We have to make our own filters today. There is so much power in words.

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint. Proverbs 17:27

[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  I Corinthians 13:7

The wise woman builds her house,
but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.  Proverbs 14:1

right, wrong, and grace

But over the past ten years, God has been peeling. Peeling and peeling the layers of me. And I am confronted often by who I think I should be and who I am.

And why.

Total honesty: I had a post all ready. Filters for our words, part two: on husbands and social media. Ready to go today.

And then, this thing happened.

A big to-do in the world I come from. And I was sad. Mad. Vocal. I researched. I followed. I watched and I listened. I was outraged. I was grieved.

And then, suddenly, I snapped out of it. For that, I thank my sister, and my husband, the “Ain’t nobody got time for that” lady . . . and the lovely squash I baked for dinner.

I got sucked into a “foolish controversy” yesterday. A “wrangling of words” with some people who are always right. Even when they use faulty metrics from sources they usually oppose, fail to practice principles of confrontation they preach, and paint condemnation with broad brush strokes.

It is surreal. And sort of painful . . . to collide with the world that shaped my mind as a new adult.

I struggle so much with this, this legalism, that took hold of me. The wrongness of them. The rightness of us.

The need to be right is just part of who I am. I can’t entirely blame that on my education. But it was certainly nourished there.

It felt good to be surrounded by people who thought exactly like me. If we differ on nuance, fine. Let’s just not make it an issue. Honestly, I don’t like to fight. Right felt right.

But over the past ten years, God has been peeling. Peeling and peeling the layers of me. And I am confronted often by who I think I should be and who I am.

And why.

And the who I think I should be is weighted so heavily with the years of sermons and books, and principles and seminars. I look back and find no place for the woman whose husband is a Christ-follower & church leader — and yet struggles with pain and addiction to pain pills . . . And suddenly I am there again . . . lost in a world of blue blazers and khaki dress pants, confused by how being right made you live right, because it didn’t. All the rightness in the world did not equip me to deal with addiction.

Yesterday, I thought of all the years of my life I wasted. Believing that certain denominations were wrong and therefore had nothing good to offer and all the while, in a “seeker friendly” — and therefore wrong — mega church on the other end of L.A., a program was launched that held the keys to my salvation.

12 Steps. Imagine that.

Biblical principles to release both Dave and me from bondage to secrets and shame. Truth, through which I finally understood my actual need for God even though I had known Him all my life and had been grounded in solid theology (with a degree from the right school to prove it). And through which I came face to face with the reality of God’s grace. Grace sufficient for me. Power made perfect in weakness.

A place where people prayed over me and Dave with a passion I had never heard in all my life. A place where we sang songs with repetitive choruses, read from a different translation of the Bible, wore t-shirts, and were preached to by recovering addicts. A place where we grieved, and celebrated.

I had never experienced Church like that.

And I broke. The pride. The fear. The defense . . .

. . . but the peeling takes time. These layers are thick.

I listen. I study. I read. I pray. I ask God to give me a heart of compassion rather than rightness (believe me, I have a full tank of that). I fail. I retreat. I strive for perfection. I believe knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And yet, still, I lean toward the comfort of knowing . . .  it’s just so much easier than love.

I am surrounded now by people with whom I don’t always feel completely at home. I don’t take for granted that we see eye to eye on finer points of doctrine. My closest friends worship in churches my education taught me preach a false gospel. And yet, I witness in their lives a deep communion with Christ,  and in their churches a stronger commitment to reaching out in Jesus’ name with actual love and help for the hurting — doing what Jesus would do. And I’ve been studying what they teach — from their writers — the core of what they really believe — and it’s there in Scripture — in interpretations dating back to the earliest days of the Church. And I am beginning to see how so much of what I once believed about them was based on caricature and representations and not reality.

This week, I appreciate anew that I am in a church where I am learning to have a spirit of love along with a spirit of discernment. I was — and still am — sorely lacking in actual grace. For others, as well as for myself.

I’m not always comfortable with grace. I am still overly concerned about appropriate attire (as though poor fishermen had Sunday finery). I am still self-conscious of movement, of kneeling to pray, of closing my eyes and shutting out the world to sing.

And I am slow to raise my hands.

* * * * *

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

— St. Paul, Ephesians 4:1-5

filters for our words, part one

Love your children by filtering what you post.

Especially your teenagers.

Sometimes, we forget, in the middle of them being so grown up, they aren’t fully grown-up . . . with the tough shells we who are really grown up have.

Oh, there are moments! Aren’t there?

Please tell me I am not the only parent of teenagers (I have three + an almost) who has been sorely — and I do mean sorely — tempted to post a thing — on Facebook, on Twitter, in a blog — and get the world’s affirmation.  Child dearest, I’m bigger, I’m faster. I will always beat you!

No? It’s just me, then?

That bedroom three feet deep in clothes-and-who-knows-what-else . . . you don’t threaten to grab a camera and post their foolishness on Facebook?

Or the sass — the sass, people!! — in the disagreement, but then you are proven right in some in-your-face way — there’s no I told you so right there on the tips of your fingers?

Or the really-stupid/life-ruining-thing-they-did and now you think everyone thinks you are a bad parent and so you must make it clear that it was their doing and none of yours? Perhaps just posted in a nebulous, passive-aggressive comment of frustration that’s about as subtle as a Taylor Swift song? As in, you may not have named names, but we all know who you’re talking about . . .

Still no? Then you, my friend, are a better parent than I.

But I’m inclined to think maybe you do get it.

Because it is a truth universally acknowledged that moms can get a little too comfy on the internet. 

Which means the potential for public humiliation of offspring is very, very real, making social media (drum roll, please) just

 “Another Way to Damage and Alienate Our Kids”

As if we needed more ways . . .

* * * * *

I’m pretty sure I’ve done my fair share of posting things that make my kids groan and possibly cry. But I try (really, I do try) not to post things that humiliate them.

I’ve got great accountability, though, which helps. For example . . .

  • Child-who-shall-remain-nameless:  MOM! What did you say on Twitter?? You know my friend so-and-so follows you! 
  • Other-child-who-shall-remain-nameless-who-is well past four, which is the age when ALL children say the most adorable things, but nonetheless, still says the most adorable things, stops me the moment I pick up my phone:  MOM!! Do NOT post that on Facebook!!
  • Other-child-plus-aforementioned-child-who-shall-remain-nameless-did awesome — and I mean awesome — dance for family video dance party night . . . child-with-whom-I-share-141-friends and I BEG them to let us post on Facebook. (No. Really. It’s just that awesome.) But the answer is:  Mom! No! Please don’t.

And I have to respect that.

I mean, which of us parents, in honesty, doesn’t recall that moment when our own parents said the thing we really hoped and prayed they would not say in front of our friends — our six friends — who came to pick us up to go see Footloose at the drive-in?

Think about it. We don’t just have the audience six friends . . . we (if our child has not blocked us) have access to ALL THE FRIENDS! at once. ALL OF THEM!!

Aren’t you thankful our parents didn’t have Facebook?

* * * * *

So, remember that video that went viral a few years back, featuring a dad disciplining his daughter by making her offenses public?  At first, I thought it was a clever . . . kind of like sitcom-parent-burns-child-with-witty-retort clever.

And then I thought, this is real life. What if my family had put my stupidity, my hormonal rage strokes, my ugly, my shame, out there for all the world to see? I don’t know . . . I think I would hate them.

Because shaming your kid on the internet is the 21st century equivalent of putting them in stocks and setting them in the town square for public ridicule.

You know. You’ve seen it: hold someone or someone’s actions up for derision, and the people will deride — and even go farther than you. Right there, for all to comment . . .

In real life, shaming and humiliating drive a wedge. And they inflict lifelong wounds.

So, I mark myself. Not always perfectly. I suppose it’s more of a filtering. Do I love my child More than my blog? More than my followers? More than entertaining my friends? More than this adorable thing that will get 50 likes but would embarrass them — even at four years old — if shared it with my 438 friends? Do I love my child more than myself?

Some stuff is just too costly — and truly isn’t necessary — for the world to know.

At least not right now when, for example, we are in the throes of parenting teens . . .

Which can be a whole lot like back labor . . . which, in my experience, involved a lot of yelling, blaming, crying, cursing, and falling to your knees — none of which, I am happy to say, was caught on camera or recorded for posterity. (Oh, honey. I how I could write the posts!)

I say this in love:

Save the pain of parenting for your journal, for your small group. The “mommy, I poop a rock” video for the box of home movies, for the photo album only a few will see years from now.

Love your children by filtering what you post.

Especially your teenagers.

Sometimes, we forget, in the middle of them being so grown up, they aren’t fully grown up with the tough shells we who are really grown up have. (And honestly, how tough is your shell these days when it comes to social media?)

Treating them the way you’d want to be treated — if not now, then when you were their age — may be the simplest filter of all.

* * * * *

So, last Monday was my oldest boy’s birthday. He’s 16 years old now.

I very carefully crafted a not-too-long, not-too-sappy, not-too-embarrassing Facebook post for his wall and debated about baby pictures . . . He’s adorable. But I didn’t. The end.

Because humiliation isn’t always intentional. Some of us don’t like being talked about — even if it’s good. (And by us, I mean me — I don’t want that. Let’s just leave me totally out of the discussion.) I’m guessing you might have a child like that, too. If you don’t know, ask them.

We just can’t expect to have a good relationship with or be loved by the people we publicly shame. 

(And not just kids . . . but that’s for the next post. And if any of you are regular readers of this blog, you know I have some ‘splainin to do on that score.)

Until then, I leave you with a writer’s prayer:

May the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.
Psalm 141:2-3