For the love of God, put the screen down

For the love of God, put the screen down

I was safely ensconced in an easy chair by the fireplace, headphones blocking out most of the chatter around me. On Friday mornings I like to go to places like Panera to take care of tasks like writing, email and yes, blogging.

A different kind of sound that filtered through my headphones caught my attention.

At a nearby table a dad was reading a book to his preschool age boy. The kid’s face shone with the wonder of the story and the anticipation of what was going to happen next.

And maybe with the delight of a bagel and book with his dad.
Maybe such a thing shouldn’t be considered the stuff of heroes but don’t ask his son that. For myself, I’d like to nominate him just for the rarity of the sighting. Far too often  when I’m out and about I see parents and kids and sometimes entire families sitting at tables in silence, heads bowed before their individual screens.

What could be more important than the people you love?

For God’s sake, for the sake of the God who created us to be in community “(it was not good that man should be alone”) put down your phones and shut off your tablets.

Not all of the time. But when we’re with each other.

Because the cat video is probably going to be there later.

Because our time together, while seeming long while we’re living it, in truth passes as fast as a minute. Friends move away and family members die and the presence we took for granted becomes absence.

Because we cannot know each other if we do not tend to each other, and if we do not know each other our connections will always be stunted, falling short of the depth and richness they could bring.

Because that person on the other side of your screen is created in the image of God and may have something to teach you, something to give you, something that encourages you or something that surprises you.

For the love of God and the love of God’s children, put the screen down. There’s a little boy who needs you to read that puppy story again. There’s a spouse who needs you to see them, really see them. There’s a friend who has chosen to spend their precious time with you.

For the love of God, put the screen down.






Miz Agnes and the Miracles

In the good southern way, children and youth alike called her Miz Agnes. In real life she was Mrs. Agnes Joyner, a fixture as a Sunday School teacher, an intimidator in a Bible study anyone else led (you best be prepared because Agnes was going to ask questions) and the keeper of the wearing hats to church tradition.

She also became the designed sitter in our church. When both parents were in the choir or divided between choir and preaching, Agnes was the person with whom parents could leave their children. They knew she’d welcome their wiggly presence with her in worship but had the gravitas to keep them from getting too wiggly. For a while she also came early to meet with children in the library and read to them. The children loved Miz Agnes.

As they also loved Miz Jane who taught generations of children in the preschool Sunday School class. Parents begged her not to retire before their children came through her class. When she died her body was carried from the church to the strains of Jesus Loves Me and a congregation filled with her now grown-up preschool children cried a bit for the deep hearted gift of having known her and the sadness of having to say goodbye to her. She told me once that in all of her years of working  with children she’d never met a bad child, only ones who needed a little more attention and care.

I thought about Agnes and Jane this week as I read an article about the impact of older adults in the lives of youth and young adults. A survey of college students found that the ones who had adults over fifty in their lives – regardless of the health of those adults – reported lower levels of illegal drug use.

It’s one of the best gifts we as the church have to offer and it’s a light we keep trying to hide under a bushel. Children used to have the benefit of lots of contact with grandparents, aunts and uncles. For many children these days such contact is infrequent.

But in a church, well it’s a different story. That’s the miracle of it. Here children can sit with Miz Agnes and be loved by Miz Jane. Here they can be friends with the volunteer helping with the youth. Here, unless we fall into the trap of segregating ourselves too rigidly by age, children and youth can find the extended family that we all desperately need. In a wonderful win-win, adults of any age can also find purpose and meaning in those connections.

Who has been Jane and Agnes for you? How might your church nurture those connections?

What a toddler taught me

What a toddler taught me

She was camped out on one side of the waiting room, an obvious grandmother charged with wrangling kids while other family members were having an appointment.

A boy sat in the chair on the other side of the table, all arms and legs thrown over the chair, lost in the world of a game on the grandmother’s phone. She was grateful that he was breaking through the levels that had long frustrated her.

She herself  sat surrounded by the sure signs of toddlerdom – an open bag with toys that weren’t working their magic today. The little girl was fine with a set of keys until she started trying to eat them, at which point the grandmother demanded them back. The little girl roamed her half of the waiting room, seeking and destroying.

The grandmother appealed to the boy. “You have a choice. You can let her use the phone or listen to her scream.” The older brother was unmoved and kept playing. I aspect eh’d learned long ago how to tune out the screams.

The grandmother appealed to the toddler, “Have some more biscuit.” The little girl obediently toddled over, even though her cheeks were bulging with uneaten biscuit.

I caught the girl’s eye and years of babysitting, children’s ministry and aunt-dom kicked in. I started playing peep-eye with the magazine I was reading. She stopped, giving me the side eye. I raised the magazine to cover my face and lowered it again. She stared, considering whether to join in this game until the grandmother offered biscuit again.

Let me be clear. I don’t stand in judgment over this overwhelmed grandmother. Sometimes we do what we can do and with small children, survival is always a noble goal.

But the encounter also made me sad. The only avenues of connection for this grandmother were food and electronics. Peep-eye. Itsy bits spider. So many ways to capture the attention of a toddler.

It made me think of the ways in which we interact with each other as adults. I’m not advocating for games of Itsy Bitsy Spider, although if you’ll start I’ll join in. I’m thinking about all the times that we miss the  simple ways of connecting with each other.  We distract each other with shiny objects when what we really want is just to be present with each other.

Some days I think it’s the most powerful thing that I offer in my therapy office: a space in which one human being is present with another human being.

This week today I dare you to connect with one other person. It doesn’t have to take more than a minute. Forgo the shiny objects. Set the electronics aside. If you and they are the hugging sort, give them a hug and allow yourself to feel how it feels to connect. Look them in the eyes and ask how they’re doing… and make a space for them to answer.

Sometimes we just want the simple things.


A Small Defense of Stuff

Christmas presentsIt’s that time of year again. My Facebook feed is filling up with friends who are gleefully and gladly announcing their liberation from the cunning clutches of Christmas commercialism and consumerism. (Today is obviously alliteration day in the old writing studio.) They congratulate each other on having left the misguided mob who is blindly following the siren song of buying useless stuff for people who are buying useless stuff for them. They enjoy the company of other enlightened souls who have vowed to buy no presents that don’t involve baby goats in a third world country.

Or maybe I’m a tad sensitive.

To be clear, I love it when people give socially conscious gifts. Its a wonderful system to do real good. But I have a confession to make.

I like Christmas shopping.

There, I’ve said it.

To be clear, I don’t go into debt. I don’t buy a gift until I have the money for it and I have a budget that’s respectful of my own budget. I don’t blindly buy stuff that’s just going to collect dust until the statute of limitations expires and it can be donated to Goodwill (at least, I hope not.) But I love Christmas shopping. It brings me joy.

I haven’t taken the love languages inventory but I suspect that gift giving may be one of mine. It’s a way of acknowledging my connection with each family member. I enjoy thinking about their unique selves, what they like and how they live. It gives me pleasure to think of their pleasure in opening it.

So when you’re writing your sermons on stuff, I hope you’ll take the time to consider that, like most things, it’s not all good or all bad. It may be a mindless waste of resources and an affront to the message of Christmas.

But sometimes, for some of us, it’s the way our hearts take tangible shape in the lives of the people whom we love.

Redeeming Mother’s Day

Redeeming Mother’s Day

by Peggy Haymes

I’ll be honest.

It’s never ranked as one of my favorite days.

It began when I witnessed too many churches getting too schmaltzy when recognizing the moms in the congregation. It always felt too syrupy and vaguely uncomfortable to me.

However, it was almost redeemed by the one memorable year when two elderly women almost got into a fight.

The pastor asked all moms to stand, then started eliminating them by age. (What possessed him to think that this was a good idea?) Finally one woman was standing, and the usher started towards her with a bouquet of flowers. About that time a quivering but determined voice was heard from another part of the sanctuary.

“I’m older than she is.”

I don’t remember how they resolved it, but alas, the two elderly women were not asked to duke it out.

In the last few years it’s seemed like a party for which I saw preparations but to which I wasn’t invited. I don’t have children, and it’s the fifth Mother’s Day since my mom died. I know to stay away from Hallmark commercials and scroll quickly through Facebook.

In worship this morning we didn’t ask the youngest or oldest mom to stand. We didn’t inquire as to which mom had the most kids. Instead, the pastor preached a fine sermon on the mothering side of God. All in all, not a bad morning.

After church a friend hugged me. “Happy mother’s day,” he said. “You mother people. I’ve seen it.”

And just like that, a day was redeemed. Maybe I could stroll into this party after all.

Wouldn’t you know it, just an hour or so earlier we’d been talking in my Sunday School class about Christian community, the hard things and the blessedness of it. We talked about the power to bless in dozens of ways small and large.

And there I was, an hour or so later, getting myself my own blessing.

You have to watch out For God. Sometimes she has a wicked sense of humor and timing.

Southerners Driving in the Snow

It’s happened again.

winter storm
Southern dogs not intimidated by snow (from 2010)

The south has gotten what our forecasters call a Major Winter Event and northerners call a nice day. The internet is full of the snickers from snow savvy people as they watch entires cities becoming paralyzed by an inch (or less) of snow.

My first reaction, as a southerner, is to be a tad defensive and to invite them to go running with me. In August. At noon. The problem is that life-sucking humidity doesn’t make for the same compelling video as pirouetting cars on ice.

My second reaction is to point out that  I am writing this blog from my office , that despite being both a southerner and a woman I navigated snow covered streets just fine. But that feels like tempting fate. After all, I do have to get home.

And then I realized that this is a great example of something that often comes up with my clients. Sometimes clients will beat themselves up for not knowing how to do something. They’re missing a crucial life skill or social skill. On some level they know that as adults they should know how to do these things but they don’t. Maybe it’s dealing with money. Maybe it’s dealing with feelings.

They take that lack as more evidence of their unworthiness as a person. They must be defective. In the words of Bill Murray from Stripes, “There’s something wrooong with us, something terribly wrooooong with us.” But there isn’t.  They aren’t fundamentally defective. The truth is,  they’re just like southerners in the snow.

There are two parts to knowing how to drive in the snow. First, there’s information. You have to know what to do; for example, don’t slam on brakes. Secondly, you have to have practice. When you live  in a a place where there’s meaningful snow once every five or ten years, there’s not much chance to practice. In addition, in the south winter weather usually means as much ice as snow. Ice is the great equalizer. No one can drive on ice – all you can do is ride it out and try not to overreact.

These people sitting in my office aren’t defective. They just missed out on something. For whatever reason, they didn’t have adults in their lives to teach them these things. The adults in their lives didn’t model good habits and social skills. I tell my clients that it is as if they grew up in a house (and school) where only English was spoken, and now they are down on themselves for not speaking fluent German. In the immortal words of Rocky Balboa while courting Adrienne, “Gaps, we all got gaps. You got gaps. I got gaps.”

Of course, now as adults they have the responsibility to fill in the gaps, to get for themselves the  things they need but didn’t get. That often takes a little work. And a not so small dose of humility. It’s easy to let your pride get in the way, thinking that you should know things and not being willing to admit that you don’t. Like learning to drive in snow, you have to get the information they need and then practice the skill.

I had a dad and brothers who taught me to drive and to drive in bad weather. But not everyone has that gift.

If you didn’t get what you needed, cut yourself some slack. Focus not on what your gaps say about your worth as a person (for in fact, they say nothing.) Focus on what you’re going to do to fill in that gap.

Driving lessons, anyone?

My devotional book, Strugglers, Stragglers and Seekers: daily devotions for the rest of us is available at Amazon.  Check it out!

Put Down the Phone and Get Connected

As  I write this I’m at my neighborhood Starbucks, enjoying working in my secondary office (their patio.) Across the way is a scene I have seen repeatedly over the last week.

A parent or parents is/are out with a their child. In this case, both parents. The parents have their phones and the child has an iPad. They are all glued to their screens. At least these folks occasionally look up and share something from their electronic world. The other week I watched a mom and her son never say a word to each other as she returned phone calls and he played a game. Not a single word.

It is all  I can do not to snatch the devices out of their hands and scream at them, “Do you know how short this time is?”

Look, I’m not a Luddite. I have my laptop (on which I’m writing this.) I have my phone. I have for the moment lost my iPad and have had a difficult time weathering the change. (While hanging out watching TV with friends I’ve been known to pull the phone out. I’m trying not to do that, even thought the TV already serves as a third party in the room. It’s an easy distraction. If I’m alone, I’m working to change the habit of immediately pulling out my phone.)

I’ve been  known to give couples an assignment to text each other during day to express gratitude or appreciation. I am as beholden to Apple as anyone.

And yet what I’ m seeing more and more disturbs me more and more. Our electronics are becoming our primary relationship. We reach for it without thinking. We have become so used to being distracted we no longer realize that it is a distraction.

We are cheating each other of the gift of our attention.

And we need that gift. We all, every single one of us, need that gift. In Death of a Salesman Willy Loman’s wife declares, “Attention must be paid.” When we have one eye on a phone we cannot be fully present to another person. Being fully present creates a safe space, a space in which we can speak of our dreams and our fears, our triumphs and our stumbles.  Someone’s full attention tells us that we are valuable, that we matter more than whatever is on that little screen.

It makes a difference even when we are alone.  I want to weep when I see people out walking, hunched over their screen, completely missing all of the gifts creation is showering around them. One of the truths about paying attention is that the longer we look, the more we see. How much do we miss when we never look up?

Put down the screen.

Stop relying on Huffington Post or YouTube to give you something to talk about. Let your child’s imagination muscle be exercised even without the help of Disney.  Look to the stuff of your own day, listen to the silly story your child wants to tell. Just look around… the way the clouds are scattered across the sky, the kindness etched into the old woman’s wrinkled face, the way your coffee tastes in your mouth.

As a child  I frequently had my nose in a book, and I’ve wondered if what I did is any different from what I’m seeing now. Here’s the difference. When we went out on the porch to eat watermelon together, we were together. If I’d picked up a book I would have been told to put it down – it was rude to shut other people out that way.

Just this morning a radio show host told of going out to dinner with a group. Someone demanded that all phones be placed in the middle of the table. Anyone who picked up their phone before the evening was over had to buy a round of drinks. I can only hope they had a designated driver.

Put down the phone. Get connected.

With your family.

Your friends.

Your Self.