The Worth of Internet Outrage

18,000 children (2).jpg

Here’s the thing that gets me about this gorilla story. When something happens and our collective outrage swells, the media know because their numbers go through the roof. Boosted numbers means increased revenue. When something makes them more money, they promote it more, which is why you’ve seen this gorilla’s face about a trillion times in the last three days. In other words, Facebook KNOWS Americans are more likely to become emotionally charged by certain types of stories because that’s what garners the most clicks and comments, and so that’s what gets promoted into your newsfeeds.

Did you notice that not a single headline read, “Zookeepers Rescue Boy Who Fell Into Gorilla Exhibit”? Rather, they are almost all centered around the unrighteous death of the gorilla. They’re playing on trends they’ve seen in the past: we are suckers for the victimized animals. And every time you like, share, or comment (and for the love of Jane Goodall, these comments on both sides are a doozy this time around), you’re helping to promote it further.

But the thing to remember is that these stories that get the most attention, and in turn get promoted more, are the ones most likely to elicit change. When everyone gets stirred into a fervor, when passion and awareness spread like wildfire, THAT is when we are driven to action. That is when justice is sought, when solutions are made, when the lives lost come to mean something more.

So please remember that as a consumer, your response holds more power than you think. Maybe you care about all these other issues too, but if you’re only willing to publicly admit your outrage for a gorilla and not for the 13 million children who can’t go to school because of wars in the Arab world, or for the 663 million people who don’t have access to safe water, or for the 125,000 lives that are ended by abortion every day – maybe it’s time to reflect on your priorities.

Because even though there are so many of us on this planet, and even though sometimes we make mistakes like sneaking into gorilla pits or turning our eyes from our children to take a sip of a drink or help another kid off a ledge, it’s the human life that is worth fighting the hardest for. Always.

Your voice matters, and your outrage carries the power to change abysmal circumstances. Use it wisely.

A Song About Love

sleeping watermark

My hum was low and gentle. I drew her closer to me in my arms, knowing the soothing vibrations of my voice would carry from my chest to hers. It was a familiar tune, the same song I’d sung to all my babies before they were even born and each day since. In fact, it’s the first song my husband and I danced to at our wedding. It’s a song about love.

As I rocked my littlest before her nap, softly humming and smiling down into her drowsy eyes, my four-year-old in the next room accidentally dropped his baseball into a bucket of Legos. Accidentally.

The crash was jarring, but I kept on humming. The pace didn’t change. The volume didn’t change. I didn’t even skip a beat.

Moments later, my three-year-old started calling out for a drink. “MOMMMAYYY!” Wait for it. “MOOOOOOOOOOM!” Wait for it. “MAAAAAAAAA!” Wait for it. Wait for it. And then, silence as she discovered the cup of water that is always on her night stand.

Through the calls, I kept humming. The pace didn’t change. The volume didn’t change. I didn’t even skip a beat.

It wasn’t long before I heard a lawn mower roar to a start across the street. When my firstborn was a baby, this scenario was a personal nightmare of mine: noise at naptime I could not control.

But instead, I just kept humming. The pace didn’t change. The volume didn’t change. I didn’t even skip a beat.

Since the time she was a newborn, I’ve wanted to show this baby that she could ignore the jarring distractions around her, that they were normal and that she could still fall asleep despite them. I hoped to show her that the sounds didn’t faze me, and they don’t have to faze her. And that although her room isn’t perfectly conducive to mid-day sleeping, she was still safe and loved and could feel secure enough to nod off.

Though certain rare circumstances beg for intervention, if I’d have jumped up out of the rocker at every loud disruption, inserted myself into whatever situation caused the ruckus and begged the world to quiet down, what would that teach her? And would she really be better off?

No, she had to learn how to thrive in a noisy world.

To master this skill, which is imperative in a house with three kids under five, she had to learn how to ignore the occasional clamor by focusing on the constant undertone of familiar love I was softly humming to her, and by holding firm to that sense of trust and security even after I had laid her down and walked out of her room.

Distractions will arise and the world can be scary and noisy, baby, but I am with you; try to focus on what we are doing here together, the hums seemed to say as I rocked her in my arms. Listen to my voice, feel it deep in your chest, and remember it even when you don’t see me.

I dedicated some time leading up to Easter to focusing on my faith. Each day, I’d distance myself from all the chatter and distractions in my life and dedicate an hour or two to listening, studying, and praying in a secluded corner of my house. It became my daily joy to work on my relationship with God, to reading and re-reading the scriptures, to be inspired by the writings of others who have been touched by God’s grace.

Now that Easter has come and gone, I’m realizing how difficult it is to maintain that level of prayer and devotion. I’ve got three kids with soccer and baseball and something called Farm Camp about to start for the summer, a husband who wants to go out on dates with me, parties to plan, road trips, and a calendar already full of commitments. The world I live in just isn’t always perfectly conducive to quiet, solitary prayer.

So what happens to my faith when I can’t regularly make time to quiet the noise in a hole in my house?

Well, it must learn to thrive in a noisy world.

When I realize I’ve gotten so busy with life that I’ve stopped seeking with my whole heart, or when I find myself being drawn to the beautiful lies of the wide and easy road, I listen for the hum. Distractions will arise, but try to focus on what we are doing here together.

When my daily news stream is saturated with stories of the violence, hatred and corruption around us, I listen for the hum. The world can be scary and noisy, but I am with you.

When people are cruel and insecurities bloom, or when the doubts and anxieties of motherhood creep in, I listen for the hum. The noise doesn’t faze me; it doesn’t have to faze you either.

When I recognize the worst of myself in my words and actions, having allowed myself to forget who I am and what’s important to me, I listen for the hum. Remember my voice even when you don’t see me.

It’s not so loud as to compete with the noise of the world, but it’s always there, I think. I hope. I believe it’s the song I’ve been hearing from before I was born. It’s a song about love.

The challenge, then, is to draw closer, recognize the low reverberations from that song deep in our chests, and feel secure enough to trust.

For more from Catherine, find us on Facebook.

 

Finding Peace in the Quiet

nook

One of my favorite professors once asked how many of us set aside time to exercise our minds. A room full of college students, many of whom had been up half the night studying for finals, raised their hands. He then asked how many of us regularly take time to work out our bodies. More hands raised; some were even carrying gym bags to hit Rec Hall after class. We all agreed it takes time and effort to improve ourselves.

“And how many of you regularly take time out of your day to work on your faith?” he asked. He was a theology professor, so we should have seen it coming. But most of us just awkwardly looked around the room, unsure how to answer. “Isn’t that as much a part of you as anything else?” he challenged.

That question has stuck with me in the years that followed. I’ve since graduated, married, and become a mother of three. Real life happened, and that life is busy. Making time to challenge my beliefs and strengthen my faith has only gotten harder.

Caught up in the whirlwind of a busy life — rife with meaningless distractions, anxieties and challenges too hard to muscle through alone —  I began to realize that this phase of my life, as a mother to young children, is one in which I should be leaning heavier on my faith for support, not leaving it in my carefree past. It was time for me to quiet the noise in my life and reconnect with the things that matter most to me.

I needed peace, and this season of Lent seemed like the perfect time to try.

***

There’s about an hour each afternoon — quiet time, we call it — when my kids are either napping or playing quietly alone in their rooms. I usually take this time to address my most pressing need. If we’re having company over that evening, for instance, I’ll take that time to clean up the house. More likely, however, I will address my need to unwind by falling down the rabbit hole of social media and Internet news. It became clear that my first step in “quieting the noise” should be setting down the phone and backing away slowly.

I knew I also wanted to use that time to work on a need I had long neglected: reconnecting with God. Whether that meant making it through a rosary without falling asleep (hi, I’m Catherine and I’m a lazy Catholic), reading through a gospel, or just talking things out with the Big Guy, I was determined to use this time to give my faith a workout.

So I snuck off to quiet corner of my house where no one would know to look for me and let my knees find the floor. From that first day in February, this has become my new happy place.

There are plenty of days when my mind wanders and I struggle to devote the focus it deserves, but it wasn’t long before I found my heart spilling out into that tiny corner. It’s where all my anxieties come out begging for guidance, where all my shame comes out begging for forgiveness, and where I go in thanksgiving to ask how best to go forward in serving. It’s where I go to remind myself of His suffering when I’m feeling at my worst, and where I pray for ways to help my friends lift the crosses they bear, too.

In the midst of a chaotic day, this time is both humbling and calming. It’s a daily reminder that I am small but I am loved, and that I can carry this love into all the relationships in my life.

Believing that someone is listening, though — especially in quiet solitude — can be a daunting leap. On one particularly challenging day, tears were drying on my cheeks as I prayed for guidance on my hard stuff. I began to question if prayer was ever enough, if even Lightsaber Jesus could help me.

lightsaber jesus

May the force be with you. And also with you.

Pulling up the blinds on a nearby window, I looked out, desperate for answers. I was struck at once by a great nothingness.

For the first time in weeks, the sky was clear and blue. The tops of the bare trees were still, no wind imploring them to dance or bow. I scanned the periphery again and again, waiting for something. The open sky felt like a void.

I slumped back against the wall, resigning myself to the sorrowful silence. What were you expecting? I chided myself. Did I think God was going to send a messenger hawk to my window? Did I think Jesus might descend on a cloud to tell a 29-year-old suburban housewife how to deal? Why were none of my bushes burning?

I glanced over at the baby monitor I had perched on a nearby shelf. It was quiet, the green light indicating my littlest was still sleeping in her crib. With the blinds open, there was now a glare against its screen.

That’s when I realized I, too, was now bathed in sunlight from the open window. I felt the warmth on my face and arms, the glare too bright to keep my eyes open when I gazed up into the blue.

Basking in the glow, my frustration fizzled. Of course. The clear sky wasn’t just an emptiness; it was an opening for the sunshine.

Here was the quiet I craved. Here was the connection I sought after, this ongoing conversation with Him. In some small way, this was even the sign I didn’t know I needed: a gentle reminder to be still and know.

Here was peace.

And so each day, I practice quieting the noise to hear Him. I practice being still to feel what moves me. I hide in a nook by myself to remember I’m not alone.

And each day, I practice carrying this peace into my roles as wife, mother, and friend.

I’m a work in progress, but I learned a long time ago that it takes time and practice to improve any part of myself. And this is as much a part of me as anything else.

Related: Jesus and Jellybeans: Talking Easter with Littles

My Mother’s Day Story

Two days ago, my two-year-old suffered what we believe was an anaphylactic reaction to a dinner I made for our family. What began as a toddler’s panic-stricken expression escalated quickly into vomiting, gasping for breath, and our very first (and hopefully last) Epi-pen use.

I held down her tiny frame with my body as tears rolled down her cheeks and she struggled to find air to fill her little lungs. I then injected her with a shot of adrenaline, capping off the exact scene that’s been playing in my nightmares since she was first diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies at 12 months. This situation is the very source of my anxiety — the reason we don’t go to restaurants anymore, the reason I wince at birthday party invitations, the reason I hold my breath every time I introduce a new food to her.

And in a matter of minutes, my nightmare played out — unexpectedly, as is usually the case — in our own home.

As my husband and I held her down, I was struck by a dichotomy of both fear and calm in the air. I was terrified. She was terrified. My husband and son were terrified. Everyone knew what was happening. But there was also a force that emerged from within myself, one that never existed in my anxiety-fueled nightmares. It was a quiet strength.

I am the type of person to break out in a heart-pounding sweat just talking to her allergist about what could happen in these circumstances. I am the type of person to drop the AED kit in CPR class and forget the whole resuscitation process under the pressure of a very friendly instructor watching. I am an incredibly nervous person by nature, never the one anyone would call for help in an emergency. And here I was, in the moment I feared most, thinking of nothing but what had to be done.

I didn’t fumble with the Epi-pen. My panicked eyes didn’t glaze trying to hastily read the instructions, and my hands were shaking but controlled. I opened it. I braced her, warning her that what was about to happen would hurt, and told her I was so sorry. I prayed for God to be with us and to help me. And I did it.

I scooped her up, strapped her into the car, and sped to the hospital.

Losing a child is every parent’s worst fear. A few times over the course of the next few days, tears flowed as I allowed myself to crumble under the crushing realization of how close we came to this. My chest caves thinking about it, my own lungs gasping for air.

So it seems my Mother’s Day gifts came a few days early this year.

The first is a deeper sense of gratitude. Upon our middle-of-the-night return from the hospital, I laid my daughter in my bed and clutched her there until the sun came up. I kissed her endlessly, remembering my promises during that car ride when I said I would give her all the treats and jewels and cuddles she wanted if she would just stay calm and keep breathing. We are one of the lucky ones.

The second gift was more unexpected. The closest name I can find to describe it is empowerment.

Looking back on how the episode played out feels like an out-of-body experience. Watching myself — the fumbling, awkward, risk-averse mess that I am — stepping forward and taking action to save my child’s life feels like a new lease on my role as a mother. Who was that woman?

The nightmare still lurks in the back of my mind, knowing this can happen again. But knowing I had the strength inside myself to handle it lets me loosen my white-knuckled grip on the fears that once crippled me. We’ve now been there. We know what it feels like. And should this ever happen again, we will know: we got this. As horrifying as this experience was, and as much as I wish it never happened, what a bittersweet gift it’s proven to be.

Anaphylaxis may not be a part of your family’s story, but being a parent almost ensures you will have to face your greatest fear at some point. I like to believe, especially now, that there’s a strength that runs through all of us. Whether a spark of the divine or the most human part of us, it’s there — even if we don’t know it yet — lying dormant until the moment we need it.

So if and when you find yourself staring down your own personal nightmare — though I hope you never do — remember the lesson I learned this week: never doubt a mother’s strength — especially if that mother is you.

Happy Mother’s Day ❤️

Evie_dandylion

The Grief In Growing Up

Last night, I put my littlest baby girl in her own bed, in her own room, for the first time.

I should have been happy. Happy she’s growing up. Happy to have my own room back. Happy I don’t have to worry about my husband snoring her awake in the middle of the night. It marks the beginning of the end of so many sleepless nights and early mornings. In real life, this is where I’d insert a joke about how I haven’t slept through the night in five years, and how great this move will be because if I put Desitin on my toothbrush one more time during the hazy edges of the day, my mouth is going to suffer an identity crisis.

But as I laid her in her bed and walked away last night, all I could feel was a gripping sense of loss.

Continue reading

Take All the Advice and Be A Top Mom in 2015

image

Marking the beginning of each new year is a barrage of promises geared toward self-improvement, even for hard-working moms. In fact, considering how much advice is out there telling us how to mother the right way, it often seems that New Years resolutions were made just for us! Everyone has an opinion on how to improve our parenting skills, so be sure to cross-reference your personal list of weaknesses with this list I’ve compiled — or, as I like to call it, How to Be the Perfect Mother in 2015:

Continue reading

My Child, My Teacher

So much of parenthood is spent worrying about our children’s educations — ensuring they meet their milestones, giving them the academic edge to get into the best schools, filling their time with activities that will teach them how to love learning. And while these things have their value, I’m starting to realize not only how much they already know, but also how much my kids teach me every day. I now have three children under four, and already they have taught me some of life’s most important lessons and shown me, in their own simple ways, how to embody the values we all strive to live by.

Continue reading