How a Treehouse Reminded Me to Put Down my Phone

A bright yellow sunbeam pattern on vintage paper.

Recently, I was driving home from my son’s robotics class.  As usual, we were enjoying the sunshine on an open country road.  Just ahead of us, traffic slowed down for a moment as a school bus ground to a stop.  Its doors opened, and a girl -12 or 13- stepped out.  She reminded me of my daughter – back-pack, pony-tail, tennis shoes.  But what intrigued me most as I looked her direction was not her, so much as what lay just past the house she was walking toward.

Just to the right of her gravel driveway was a tree-house.  A well-designed tree-house, yet one beginning to show its age.  Boards warping.  Wood dulling.  Paint peeling.  Beneath the trees were a handful of stray pieces of ply-wood that had fallen  and were lying, forgotten.  And as traffic picked up again, I was left to contemplate:

Once upon a time, that tree-house was new and the girl was small and excited.  And now she is grown, and the tree-house is worn.  And the years are over.  Fast.  So fast.

treehouse steps


Put the Phone Down

NPR recently posted an article on plugged-in parents.  Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician specializing in child development, has become concerned about the digital generation’s parenting, and set aside a Summer to observe families.  She and two other researchers studied 55 sets of parents in restaurant settings, finding that 44 sets of parents pulled out their phones immediately upon being seated.

“They looked at it, scrolled on it and typed for most of the meal, only putting it down intermittently.”  Not surprisingly, Radesky also noted that of those 44 sets of plugged-in parents, behavior in their children was more disruptive and chaotic than in the families whose parents were not plugged in.

emma brown dress


Plug into Your Kids

What will be the long-term effects on a generation raised by constantly distracted parents?

There is no way to know, but here are 2 primary concerns I have:

1.  Children will not feel validated and listened to, while little.  This will create ambivalence in their minds as to parental authority in the older years.  After all, if Mom has always texted her friends before responding to your need, and if Dad has always said: Hang on a sec, while he scrolled his Twitter feed, why would a response of parental validation suddenly develop in a child?

Children require enormous amounts of encouragement and affirmation.  And there is room for little beyond a response of irritability in a parent who is endlessly plugged in.

will green shirt

2.  Children will find answers independently.  There is no room for conversation in a room with a Mom and her phone.  Uh-huh, is the response.  Just a minute, the constant reply.  But kids will not wait til your thumbs stop texting, to grow and develop.  Their minds are always on and ready to engage.  They are naturally inquisitive and insatiably curious, eager always to piece together information about the world they live in.

Parents are needed to read, to think, to respond, to ask questions back.  Children will demand answers, and if their parents come up empty, they will find answers somewhere.  Among friends, Internet, their own phones.

But this begs the question: Do we really want them looking? 

Back to the Treehouse

What does any of this have to do with a treehouse?  Well, once upon a time, the middle-school girl stepping off the bus, was little.  But now she is not.

As Sally Clarkson reminds, the second law of thermo-dynamics states that all things are plodding along, yet wearing out as they go.  Your kids’ child-hoods are not forever.  And they are wearing out, as they get closer to adult-hood.

There are some things we should live to regret: our sin, our harsh anger, our poor choices and our arrogant words.  But there are other things we should fight to protect from regret.

And our kids’ childhoods, full of life, love and listening, are one of them.






Facebook: Think, Before You Envy

Ironically, it was while sitting on a chair at the beach that I saw the article.  An article much like others I have read that present similar facts:  Facebook creates envy in women.  Paralyzing envy.  Envy so significant it has been linked to depression, anger and general life discontent.  But what was striking about the article is that it suggested that the greatest cause for envy among women was two-fold: marriages and vacations.

Gulp.  There I was, enjoying the sight of the Gulf Coast in front of me, snapping photos of our family and our experiences one after another.  And every couple of days, uploading some of these memories to be shared, on none other than Facebook.  I sank as I read, wondering if I was a contributor to the sobering statistics of women held captive.  If I was unknowingly helping the author to compile even more research by my snap-and-shoot-uploading!

I spent some time thinking about the place Facebook has in my life, while walking the beach one morning.  And churning over in my mind: Does Facebook hold me captive to envy?  Or worse, do I contribute to the problem?

I thought of the author’s example of vacations stirring up the deepest feelings of jealousy.  And I came away with 2 angles to the approach of the Facebook-vacation-envy quandary, which I think might be helpful for us to consider when we scan our friend’s photos and feel the green-eyed monster glowing.

1.  The Snapshot: Facebook is a tiny snapshot.  It shows the sun, the beach, the lake, the beautiful European city.  But it shows form without emotion.  It does not show the tears that preceded the trip as the marriage was stretched.  It does not portray the pain of the learning disability in the child struggling, and Mom’s weariness over it all.   It does not highlight the tension that job-loss has created.  It does not make visible the general worn edges of family life, making the whole vacation necessary.

I have known couples who have gone away because a marriage was bullet-holed through with pornography addiction.  I have known friends who have gone out of town because their children were rebelling against them, and their family life was exhausted.  I have known friends who have gone away because the pain of their circumstances would not lift, and they had run out of hope.

There are a million reasons why your Facebook friends go on vacation.  Many times, it is genuinely to find refreshment and to gain fun.  But behind the smiles, there might be a background of need that you do not know about or understand.  And this is where we need to assume that the vacation snap-shots are just that- a snap-shot.

2.  The Percent:  Vacations are exciting, because they are rare.  If the average American receives 2-3 full weeks of vacation days each year, that works out to be math between between 3% and 4%.  If I received a 4% on a test, I would be devastated- 4% is a tiny number!  So when your friend is standing on a beach in the sun, or sitting on an Adirondack chair at the lake, or posed along a cobblestone street in Italy, she is enjoying the 4% of her life that is “off”.  She is enjoying the good gift of rest.  She is reveling in the rare joy of being still with her family, without her daily and overwhelming stresses.  After her time on the water or the cruise or the jaunt through Europe is over, she returns home to her every-day normal where she resumes her 96% of her life.  Which is her “real life”.  And this real life is non-stop, committed and hard work.   So be glad for your Facebook friend in her moments stepping away from normal.

I am convicted of the need for grace when engaged with Facebook.  Grace and Joy.  Proverbs 14:30 does not mince words when it states that envy does little more than rot the bones.  I do not want my attitude to smell like rot when faced with joy that is not mine.  While gazing at a vacation destination from the laptop in my living room, I can choose the small world of envy or I can choose the broad world of joy applied.  And when I choose joy, I elevate my friend.  I share with her in her tiny snapshot, her small % of life “off”. I support her in her fun and her moments of restoration that enable her to hit the ground running again,  stronger and better for the task.


My Facebook Conduct: Is it Worthy of the Gospel?

The icon has become representative of our generation, familiar to our culture.   It is embedded in our search history, front and center on our phone menus.  It is our little blue friend, connecting us to a world beyond our homes and work-places, inviting us to engage.

As though it were not difficult enough to practice Christian conduct in our homes behind closed doors, we are now offered through social media, an entirely new array of public moments in which we are asked to “walk worthy”.


Did you know that at 2013’s year end, Facebook boasted a staggering 1.9 billion world-wide account holders?  Among those, there are 728 million daily users.  And of those 728 million, the average count of friends, is 300.  These numbers belie the fact that Facebook wields tremendous influence over our days, and in our lives.  As Christian women, we are given complete liberty to engage with social media, but how do we walk in Gospel consistency while logged in?

Several months ago, I was convicted of my tendency to engage with Facebook exactly as it wants us to: with a non-committal flippancy.  I had spontaneously “liked” something that was poking fun at a particular style of Facebook behavior.  And the moment I clicked my approval, I felt a heaviness inside- a conviction that my quick thumbs-up was simply unkind.  I withdrew my “like” immediately, but came away desirous of a sense of accountability for my online behavior.  

Facebook’s newsfeed presents several main categories of response, and these are the areas I felt convicted to consider.  I share these thoughts only in the hope that you might identify, not with any sense of authority.  The specifics of an online presence are individual  and yours alone to tailor, as God’s Spirit convicts.  But given that so many of us struggle in knowing how to be online, while still acting Christ-like, I am sharing some of the categories I found helpful to consider. 

Time Management – The less I am on Facebook, the less likely I am to engage in negative behavior there.  Simply put, the options for flippancy are diminished by being “in” my offline life and “off” my online life.  I think of others more positively,  I engage with others more readily,  I love others more purely when Facebook time is in check.

First-person communication – The more I directly pursue communication with real people in real time, the more I grow to appreciate the person behind the screen.  Tuning in to a friend in real-time allows me to understand her true circumstances, her true struggles.  Everyone has a life story continually unfolding, but because Facebook does not tell more than 1% of it, we can become too trusting of the tiny cross-section we hear, not realizing that there is plenty we do not see.  Picking up the phone and speaking directly, allows me access to the other 99%.

Exercising Sensitivity – Through Facebook, I am now able to display where I go and with whom, which also means that I am able to display who I am NOT with at any given time.  And while it is fun to record daily goings-on, there can be victims of your fun, or mine – those who were not present, not invited, not asked or able to join in.  By taking a moment to ask myself: Would this photo hurt anyone’s feelings? I am able to better scan my mind for faces of those who might feel diminished if I post.

Monitoring Likes – Philippians 4:8 provides excellent guidance for what our hearts and minds are to like. Whatever is pure and noble and excellent.  Whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable and giving of a good report.  Through Facebook, I am able to share and like and give a thumbs-up to all sorts of things.  My approval needs to match God’s standards, and His blueprint is intended to help us in all circumstances, Facebook included.

If in Doubt, Don’t – Once “post” is blithely clicked, your inner thoughts are now public.  It is rare to regret holding in a thought, but more commonplace to regret not holding one in.  If you are on the fence with sharing information, stay there.  Climb back over to the side of no-regrets.

One of the benefits of being in Christ, is that His Word is pre-eminent for all of life.  Though the need to surrender Facebook and social media to His influence is a relatively new concept, His words are eternal and relevant for every era and every circumstance.  He is with us in this new age of life logged- in, complex thought it is at times.


Distracting Ourselves to Death

It was the book I was required to read in college that stared at me from the top of the pile.  Ugh.  That book.  Each semester there was the book I found most difficult to delve into, because for some reason it was dry in my mouth and dull to my brain.  Sadly, Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, was it for me – the test of my diligence.  I am certain I skimmed and never committed heartily to Postman’s words, but was nevertheless still impacted by a certain statement he made within.  “America“, Postman observed, “is the first nation in jeopardy of amusing itself to death”.

At the time, I was 19 and there was only so much depth and maturity with which to care what Postman’s concerns were, but I was impacted as best I could be for my age and have carried his warning with me since.  After all, money = time and for most Americans we have both by global comparison.  And by virtue of such possession, are somewhat compromised and endangered morally and spiritually, though we care not to think about it much.

As a Mom though, I am busy.  Really busy.  And so busy so much of the time, that I can feel unaffected by conviction in terms of living in a constant cycle of amusement.  The dentist?  Not amusing.  Discipline of a toddler?  Not amusing.  Character and attitude training?   Not amusing.  Cleaning sheets and towels?  Necessary, but not amusing.

Yet as a woman poised smack in the center of an age of social media, home-Internet and smart phones, I have come to ask myself regularly a question which perhaps Postman might have asked had he written his book today:

Maryanne, are you distracting yourself to death?


Are you plugged in so incessantly that you are tuned out continually?


Are you “in” the moments of your life and present for them, or are you dialed out?

Our generation, as best I can observe, is in danger of distracting ourselves to death.  We hold within our palms continually, the means of ignoring thousands of tiny moments which make up our lives. We alone are offered the opportunity to be constantly in touch, constantly available.

Constantly distracted.

Spiritual discipline is a well-formed plan.  Family life takes tremendous focus.  And both will not just pop up one day.  Our hearts and minds need space for reading, for prayer.  And those little and complex kids will not simply develop overnight into responsible, honoring adults.  It is necessary to have quiet and focused room for growth, and undistracted space with which to hone our plan for continued growth, spiritual and otherwise.

I have been praying for wisdom to know how to embrace technology as a valuable tool, but to do away with any pieces of it that are hindering me.  To be honest, the Facebook app on my phone was hindering me.  The constant availability of a news feed that pulled me out of my everyday, was not helping me run my race.  So one day I logged out, and have not looked back.  I love Facebook – its news and keeping up with friends, and photos of adorable children.  But phone-to-Facebook disrupts my day, and I don’t want to live a disrupted life.

We are all running individual races.  Your weak-spot might not be mine.  But the common thread is that we are all “running” within a highly distracted culture.  I do not want to reach the end of my life and feel that the music of my existence was a series of chirps and beeps and buzzes.  There is more to be had than that.  And I want my kids to know that I knew it.