Fighting for Beauty in a Screen-filled World

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Do you ever have repeated arguments— ahem— spirited conversations in your home about particular issues? For us, it’s about the tension of living in this unprecedented era of technology. Of course, neither Glenn nor I grew up with screens everywhere, so we aren’t exactly sure how to navigate this well with our family.

For me, turning on the TV is the last thing to do in order to relax; for Glenn, it’s often the first. (I get it: he spends a lot of time reading, writing, thinking, etc, while I can’t wait to get time to do any of the above!) As we have talked about this issue over the years, we have tried several solutions— from moving the TV to the basement, to my threatening to smash the TV! I know kind of primal, right? Even though I wouldn’t have followed through, too much TV or screen time of any kind drive me nuts.

Despite my strong feelings and not-so-nice empty threats, Glenn has challenged me by asking, “What is really going on under the surface? Is this really about the TV?”  Is it that I just have a disdain for screens? Don’t I see all the value and contributions they have brought to the world and to my life?

Worse still, am I not caught up in this in some way myself? When my three year old says, “MOM, will you put DOWN your phone?” When I obsessively read reviews on an educational curriculum, I realize I too am ‘numbered among the transgressors’. It’s easy to blame Glenn or get upset with him for spending too much time on screens or allowing our children to watch them when I’m implicated in it too.

After searching my heart on this issue, I realize it’s really not about what I’m fighting against; it’s what I’m fighting for. I’m not out to sabotage a family movie night, nor am I discounting the value of online education.

I’m fighting for beauty.

I believe God created a magnificent world for us to see Him in. 

I believe He created beautiful wildflowers like bright orange paintbrushes and purple bellflowers so we can see His goodness. 

I believe He created us for relationship with others— to know others and be truly known by them. 

I believe He gave us His Word so we may know Him and glorify Him. 

I believe He gave us great works of literature so we can see His beauty, truth, and goodness.

My desires for my family are fixed on these ideals, and I don’t know how to accomplish them if we spend much of our life in front of screens.

Summer is upon us and sometimes this can be the hardest season to resist screen time. I feel it too. I want to get work projects done in the house like cleaning out the garage or deep cleaning my shower (fun!) or spend an extended amount of time planning a portion of our summer. Or lets be honest, ignoring everyone and reading a work of fiction for hours. It’s so easy to turn the TV on or to hand them an iPad (for ‘educational games’, of course!) to keep the little ones occupied or to keep the big ones from asking me questions.

This can also be a great time to start afresh with a new plan. We’ve had all sorts of plans and charts over the years. But the one, we seem to come back to is what we call, 2 hours of TV credits/screen time a week. Its simple.

  • Each child gets 2 hours of parent-approved TV or iPad time a week. (I’m not the grinch, so occasionally we give exceptions.)
  • During the school year, this means no screens during the week because they have more free time to watch on the weekend.

This summer, Glenn receives a sabbatical from his pastoral position and church responsibilities. We are incredibly grateful for this opportunity to rest, be renewed, and delight in recreation with our family. In light of pursuing sabbath rest for him and I, it will be a great challenge not to put our kids in front of screens. We’ll head out on a road trip for part of the time, so we’ll probably watch a bit more, but not until they’ve listened to hours and hours of audiobooks in the car first.

Instead, they can use their imaginations. I had the great privilege of having to use mine as a child. Why should I deprive my child of the same opportunity? They may not see it as such, but we know better.

My brilliant psychologist sister-in-law Tracy Alloway said to me when my first child was very little, “Holly, almost anything she can do is better for her than watching TV.” (She wrote more about this for Psychology Today HERE.)

Time in front of screens may not be harmful; but it takes up the space for doing other things which are far more beneficial…and beautiful! They can go outside, read a good book, build legos, kick a ball around (as Jonas does endlessly!), serve a family member (as they do reluctantly), or…create a nature camp or ballet class for their siblings (as Sophia and Norah are fond of doing for the younger two).

God is calling us to hear, see, and taste His goodness in His world. There are many challenges, and we are sure to stumble in implementing any plan. It’s a struggle, but one worth engaging in.

So…let’s fight for beauty in our homes this summer!

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A Marvelous and Melancholy May: Reflections on Delight, Sadness and Longing

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.”
Ecclesiastes 7:2-3

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I’ve been thinking about writing for many weeks, but just haven’t been able to muster up the emotional energy to put any thoughts or experiences into words until now. I want to be someone who will speak in the strong moments in life and in the ones that don’t go as we hope. So here are some thoughts surrounding the latter.

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Outside Shakespeare’s childhood home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The last month began with a gloriously delightful trip to England. Words wouldn’t adequately express how wonderful and soul-filling the trip was for me personally.  Eight days away from my children, with my husband, with friends, with great books, in London, in Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon– a luxury made possible because of Glenn’s wonderful parents and their willingness to be with our kids. These are places that I have desired to visit for many, many years. Plus, there was the plane ride where I read an entire book set in England! Brideshead Revisited brought me into the world of a man who had great desires, searching for something more than what he had known. Little did I know, I was about to enter a world that would captivate my imagination and passions.

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The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian library in Oxford, home to some of the world’s greatest treasures of the mind.

Our days were filled with tours and walking around historical sites, wandering libraries centuries old, drinking too many flat whites, perusing used books stores with all my favorite books, and engaging in intellectual and invigorating conversation. My worlds were merging – I looked upon fragments of an ancient Sappho poem that my girls memorized this year. And the original handwritten, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. And an unexpected visit to Shakespeare’s home brought so much joy, having listened to a 16 hour audiobook last year about his life. I was ecstatic to see the places I spent so many hours reading about.

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Grahame’s original handwritten manuscript of the ‘Wind in the Willows’, which were a series of letters to his son whilst away on a long holiday.

I felt on top of the world, even if for a brief time.  If you know me, I’m usually the stable, steady type, emotionally. Rarely do I feel the heights or depths of extreme emotions. But I fell in love with so many facets of England, and I fell hard when I returned. Of course, part of this was likely due to the fact that I came home alone (Glenn stayed on for some meetings) to my four children whom I missed dearly but who still needed to be fed, bathed, listened to and the list goes on. I must have briefly forgotten all the physical and emotional energy it takes to run our home and educate our children on a daily basis! The whining and fighting that occurs daily and that I normally I tune out, was like loud gong and a clashing cymbal.

Upon my return home, I asked myself, “Was it worth it?” I usually ask myself this question if I leave home without my kids.  But normally its only for a couple days. This was 8 glorious days. Still, my answer was, ‘Yes’, of course, but I really felt like I paid a high price for my departure.

This particular time, I felt very emotionally down and sad. It was as if, being in some of the environments in England showed me how much I desired some of those elements to be a part of my daily life. Even though I read deeply, have great conversation with friends and mentors, it just isn’t the same. There is no way to re-create many of the experiences I had there.

And that’s just it, isn’t it?  We were made for another world. There are longings in our hearts that won’t ever be fully met on this Earth. Being made in the image of God, we have a sense that everything isn’t what it was created to be– ideas about how a perfect homeschool day could go, or the perfect walk in the woods, or a perfect relationship. Somehow our ideals often don’t seem to be the reality we live in.

May was also the time for endings. As I wrapped up the school year with my kids, there were numerous bittersweet moments– the ending of activities, programs, recitals, book groups, and even the saying goodbye to friends. All this amidst weeks on end of rain and hail, storms and gray, and sunless skies. I couldn’t shake a deep sadness in my heart that I knew was about longing.  A longing for things to be different.

Many days, I would begin to cry and call out to the Lord. He was drawing me to Himself, not to pull me out of the pain, but to call me to reach out to him in the midst of the difficulties. It was a call to grieve even the small things that didn’t turn out as I thought they might, a call to seek only Him in the midst of wanting to find my joy in the things He created.

I’ve been reading Saint Augustine’s Confessions and he talks about grief in this way: “Grief eats away its heart for the loss of things which it took pleasure in desiring, because it wants to be like you, from whom nothing can be taken away.” Later in the book, he writes these soaring lines about true Joy: “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose . . ! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. . . . O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.

Sometimes we ask for God to show up in our circumstances and to fulfill a desire of our heart. Sometimes the circumstances change. Sometimes His Holy Spirit comes alongside us to walk with us in the midst of what we are going through. And this is the source of our truest Joy.

Being Fully Present Today

It’s now a tradition. For the past five years, Glenn and I have embarked on a prayer and planning retreat around the new year somewhere in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

IMG_0001As we sat in silence looking out the window at the snowflakes fluttering to the ground, I sensed the small, still voice of the Lord inviting me to draw near. With no children running in the background or cries to attend to, I had a moment to be still. Actually, be still. My desire of the Lord in that moment was to hear something from Him. Maybe a word that would lead me into his calling for me this year. No sooner than I asked, I heard. And I don’t often hear so easily. Oh how I wish I took the time to be still, to listen more often. But what matters now, is that I’m listening.

And the word that I heard was, Abide.

Packiam-50My babies are growing up. It doesn’t seem long ago that most days were filled with nursing, cuddling, and rocking them. My youngest is now two and half. And yet, I’m entering a new season of sorts, one that might give me a little space. Space to step out, even if just a bit, to attempt to lead, teach, and maybe write. But at the center, He is stirring me to abide. To be rooted in Him, founded in Him rather than being caught up in what others are saying or doing.

His question to me…What have I called you to?

As I abide, I’m choosing to live intentionally, choosing to be fully present each day. And isn’t it a choice we continue to make every single day? As with so many things in life, we want to decide to love, to be at peace, to be present once and for all but it just isn’t so. As Kathleen Norris says in The Quotidian Mysteries, “When humans try to do everything at once and for all and be through with it, we court acedia, self destruction and death. Such power is reserved for God, who alone can turn what is ‘already done’ into something that is ongoing and ever present. It is a quotidian mystery.”

In this new year, I’m asking the Lord, “How can I live fully each day?” I can’t, without Him giving me eyes to see Him and ears to hear Him.

If it’s the only prayer I offer at the start of each day, it might sound something like:

“Lord, help me to truly see you today. Help me to be fully present today.” 

So simple and short but it’s a prayer that focuses and grounds me.

IMG_0002I’m asking the Lord to awaken wonder in my heart, to see this world as He sees it. I don’t want to miss the brilliant, white snow falling to the ground this season or the opportunity to draw my children to the miracle of a snowflake. Or the moment to engage in a meaningful conversation when my child asks a question as we read books aloud. Or taking the time to lay down with my two year old when she calls out, “Mommy, I need you.”

Lord, help me to see what is truly most important. None of us can escape the menial tasks of life, but we can choose to believe that God is truly everywhere, in every moment with us.

“Let us remember that the life we ought to be interested is ‘daily’ life. We can, each of us, only call the present time our own….Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so he prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow.  ~ Gregory of Nyssa

Let’s be present, fully embrace each moment…even in the piles of laundry, dishes stacked to the hilt, muddy footprints tracked through the house, popcorn trails from the living room.

Let’s abide.