Life Without Facebook, Week 1

As hard as it might be for you to believe, I’m doing very well outside the walls of the Facebook Kingdom. It is true, I was shocked by the things I found when I looked up from my digital world. There are real trees and birds, babbling brooks and fuzzy squirrels, green grass and fluffy clouds, marching bands and holiday parades, quiet evenings and romantic dinners; all uninterrupted by my former virtual reality. To my amazement,  I learned that there are people living in my neighborhood, around the corner and down the street!  And they will talk to me!

Sadly, there have been a number of people who’ve asked (mostly via electronic methods) why I left Facebook. It’s a hard concept to grasp. However, I am beginning to understand that they seem to care less about my answer than the harsh truth that they “could never” leave the virtual community themselves. They’ve moaned that it is their only connection to people far away. It is their only lifeline beyond the world they live. It is their way of keeping in touch.

My response is simple, “Have you tried picking up the phone?” If Aunt Gertrude is that important to your existence, couldn’t you pick up a phone and ask her how her bursitis is today? Isn’t it just as easy (and perhaps a little more meaningful) to hear her voice as she explains the fall corn harvest, the Sunday church carry-in, or how Uncle Argyle is preparing the house for winter? I suspect it would mean more to her than simply liking the picture of her cat she posted last week.

I know, I’m old fashioned. It’s my generational curse. You see, I grew up in a time when a party-line phone allowed me to listen in on my neighbor’s calls, or know when Grandma Hines was listening in on our calls. We always knew the old woman down the road was listening in because of her emphysema-induced heavy breathing on the line. Ah, good memories.

Look, I’m not trying to return to the technical dark ages. I’m not trying to go back to the good old days shortly before men landed on the moon. But I realized a troubling trend on “The Social Media that Shall Not Be Named”: A person’s page is typically designed to do one of three things.

  1. Show everyone their beautiful family/cute kids/amazing dog or cat (guilty as charged – strike 1)
  2. Show everyone the food they cook/serve/eat (guilty as charged – strike 2)
  3. or Glorify their amazing activities/cars/houses/yards and their great looks. When did duck lips become so popular? (guilty as charged – strike 3)

In short, I’m simply trying to simplify, reconnecting by disconnecting, finding myself by paying less attention to myself.

 

The Giant Salamander Dilemma

I often watch nature shows; Nova, Nature, Planet Earth, The Life of Birds, and about a dozen others.  Of course, the best viewing is hosted by David Attenborough, whose voice has become synonymous with nature programming.

The other night I was enjoying a mesmerizing segment on Planet Earth, narrated by Mr. Attenborough. I laughed at a lighthearted story about baby birds and and romping lion cubs when out of nowhere, my friend David turned dark. He started telling a monster story about a bizarre animal that terrified me and at the same time, caused me to pause and reflect on my own life.

Giant SalamanderThe Great Sir Attenborough told of the Giant Salamander of Japan. This monster lives in the icy waters of Japan’s mountains. It hunts by night, eating bugs and crustaceans and fish.  Even on that meager diet, it can grow up to 2 meters in length (that’s more than 6 feet) and can live up to 80 years.

Think about that for a minute.  Eighty Years! This beast does nothing but hang out in freezing water hoping for a pressure change in the water to alert him to a passing fish. Nothing more. That’s his life. He wakes up late in the evening and says goodbye to the Giant Salamander Wife and Kids and makes his way out into the world to do a honest night’s work of grub hunting. And he does that for eight decades. Four-score. 29,219 days. For my Spanish friends, that’s Ochenta! For my Japanese friends that is roughly Hachiju! Any way you count it, it’s old.

1024px-Andrias_japonicus_pairTo put that into perspective, the average life expectancy of an American male is 78.1 years, which means that Mr. Giant Salamander could live longer than me. However, one has to ask the question about quality of life, right? I mean, is Mr. Salamander’s life as fulfilling as my own? After all, my life is full of meaning. Seriously. I wake up in the morning, say goodbye to my wife and kids and trudge to work where I do the job that makes it possible to buy food (grubs) for the table and shelter over our heads (rocks and cold water). I return from work at the end of the day and prepare to do it all over again tomorrow…and I live 1.9 years less than the Giant Salamander of Japan. Crap.

This thought has festered over the past few weeks as I’ve tried to recount my life’s purpose, my ambitions, and goals. Am I really that different from the world’s second largest amphibian? Is there something that distinguishes my much-anticipated and just-shy-of eight decades of life?

In short, what separates us from the Giant Salamander? I’ve known plenty of people who live much like my aquatic, bug eating friend. They move from day-to-day without purpose, without joy, in salamander-like fashion. They live in an icy world, separated from others, scraping to get by; like the Giant Salamander, never a smile on their face. (Have you ever seen a Giant Salamander smile?  I think not.)

How about you? Does your life have meaning beyond the daily grind? What do you do that makes your life meaningful? Is it the work you do? Is it the causes you champion? Is it the hobby you enjoy? The church you attend? The family you raise? What is it that gives your life purpose?

I propose that there are several things that can distinguish us from the Giant Salamander…if we only try.  First, and this is really more of a genetic thing, we have opposable thumbs and breathe air into our lungs rather than absorb it through our skin. But there’s a little more. We have the opportunity, each and every day, to be a part of a greater good. We are offered the gift of living with others, in community. Our ability to love others, and our desire to be loved, gives us purpose, gives us meaning, and ultimately gives us joy. You can have a dozen hobbies and still be alone. You can fight the good fight for a dozen worthy causes but still be empty. I know plenty of people who go to church religiously and are hollow shells and nasty folks.

It isn’t what we do.  It is how we live.  So live your life well. Love those around you. Be lovable. Allow others to love you. Otherwise, we might as well return to our grub hunting.

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Can I tell you about my friends, Lindy and Tim Siefker?  Can I mention that this last year has been quite a journey for their family?  Can I tell you about her cancer diagnosis and surgeries?  Can I outline Tim losing his job in the midst of her treatment?  Can I tell you about their boys attending college during this tumultuous time?  Did I mention that they have boys…nothing but boys (that should be enough right there)!

I would tell you about these things and outline a tale of struggle and frustration and bad news followed by more bad news.  But these thing are all secondary to what matters most in this story; a marvelous tale of hope and grace.  The illness and treatments, the job search, the new work and extensive business travel,  the college expenses, the shuttling of one son who is yet to obtain his license; all take a back seat to what matters.  In the middle of all the chaos, all the turmoil, all the life-change, Tim and Lindy are shining examples of faith, hope and love.

As Paul wrote, when all things are taken into account, these three remain.  These three matter most: Faith, Hope and Love.  And these three words summarize Tim and Lindy.  They tell us exactly who they are and what they believe.  Because, the Siefkers are beacons of FAITH that there is a stronger power.

They are lights in darkness pointing to the HOPE of God’s love and sovereign purpose.

They live lives of LOVE for one another and all who enter their world.

I’ve known this couple for more than a decade.  They are special to me, not because of their talent, charm and wit (although, they brim over with all of the above).  They are dear to my heart because, through it all, they are dear to God’s heart.  And more God is central to their own hearts.

I hope that there are a few people in your life who challenge you to be better, who know that life is tough and prove that God is tougher.  I hope you have people like Lindy and Tim who lead you to a better place by living exemplary lives of Faith, Hope and Love.

I’m so thankful that these friends are part of mine.