Sabbath

Rest is something we struggle with, isn’t it.  It seems to be one of those Earth-dweller conditions, like fighting sin and enduring suffering.  We always feel tired.

I thought when I got out of law school everything would normalize.  I’m less stressed, but I’m actually more tired.  An eight-to-five schedule plus a two hour daily commute with only three weeks’ vacation takes its toll.  I’m sure you can relate.  I hear it all the time, from students, teachers, factory workers, truck drivers, doctors, and parents: I’m tired.

There are lots of great books out there on this subject, and I won’t re-cover their ground. And I’m afraid I can’t give you a fix-all solution.  But I will show you what the Bible says and offer a few practical solutions that I’ve used in my own life to ease the struggle.

First, let’s go right to the source.  “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall have labor and do all of your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work…”  Exodus 20: 8-10.  I never realized until my most recent read-through of the Old Testament how many times God has to say, “REST!”  I think he knows that our tendency is to plow, to produce, to keep busy.

Conversely, and ironically, he knows that we long for rest.  He had to have felt the yearning in this Psalm: “…Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest.”  Psalm 55: 6.  It was almost, seemingly, in direct answer to this desire that Jesus spoke on so many occasions.  “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, and you will find rest in your souls.”  Matthew 11: 28-29.

There are two types of rest: physical rest and soul rest, and I think Jesus is speaking to both.  The physical reasons you need rest are obvious: pull up any medical article on the dangers of lack of sleep.  For the mental side of your health, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you don’t take the time to step back, the consequences can be dire.  Listen to your body.  Watch for signs that you need to slow down.  And of course, this is all intimately connected with spiritual rest.  If your soul is burdened, if something is weighing heavily on your heart, you can be exhausted and run-down in another way, one that is just as dangerous.  And that can spill over into the physical side.  And, to complete the circle, the physical side can easily spill over into the spiritual.  Happily, the consequences of resting are just as connected as those of not resting.  “For anyone who enters into God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.”  Hebrews 4:10.

God wants the best for us.  He wants us to be in an optimal condition to serve him and serve others.  He wants us to experience rest and utter peace.  And so he requires from us a Sabbath. Whatever that day may be, we need a day of rest and rejuvenation, mind, body, and soul.  Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, yes!  I go to church on Sunday morning and Sunday night and do a thousand acts of service!”  No, no, no.  That is no Sabbath.

I’m not saying don’t serve your church.  I’m saying spend time in prayer about the things you’ve been called to do, about what God thinks you can handle physically and spiritually.  And ALWAYS remember that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  Mark 2:27.  Rest.  Your Sabbath is for your rest, for recharging your body, and aligning your soul with God.

We have come to a point where we seem to take how much we can do, how many boxes we can check, as a badge of honor.  If you’re having trouble fighting that feeling, think of how many times the Bible says for us to rest.  This is not a recommendation, like your mom saying, “Honey, you should really get some sleep.”  It is a commandment.  And we’re not supposed to break it.  Hebrews calls it disobedience if we do.

That’s not to say there are not times when we simply are not able to rest.  I’m not disregarding that.  I’m also not saying there won’t be times when the Spirit will prompt you to go a little further, do a little more.  An example is Jesus’s frustration when the disciples, obviously exhausted, couldn’t stay awake to keep watch with him just before his arrest.  That was a time to rise to the occasion, and there will be such times in all of our lives.

But I do know that a lot of things we call impossible are not.  We could set them aside if we truly wanted to.  We can say no.  I also know that Jesus promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  He only asked one hour of his disciples that night.  He won’t ask more of you than you can physically, mentally, or spiritually bear.

So rest, my friends.  And go out and be the person God has called you to be.  Do it for yourself, do it for your family, and do it in obedience to a decree as old as time.

-Tara

Writing Playlist

As promised, I am sharing my Spotify playlists for my current work-in-progress, which features both a modern portion and a portion set in 1859 on the cusp of the Civil War.  As you can see, I favor a lot of instrumental and choir music while I’m writing, mix in a few that remind me of the characters or the situation, and top it off with some “mood” songs (songs that reflect the proper mood for the story).

Historical Portion
The Story of My Life – The Piano Guys
Gracie’s Theme – Paul Cardall
Echo – Helen Jane Long
Rather Be – Jasmine Thompson
A Thousand Years – Jasmine Thompson
Demons – Jasmine Thompson
Home – Jasmine Thompson
Through The Dark – Helen Jane Long
Baptism – Paul Cardall
Wintersong – Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Storms in Africa – Enya
Delicate – Taylor Swift
Hold Me – Fleetwood Mac
Beethoven’s 5 Secrets – The Piano Guys
With Or Without You – 2Cellos
This Land – Has Zimmer
Willow – Jasmine Thompson
Everlong – Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Be Thou My Vision – Audrey Assad
Crash Into Me – Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Paradise – Midnite String Quartet

Modern Portion
Half of My Heart – John Mayer
Vultures – John Mayer
Your Body Is a Wonderland – John Mayer
Over My Head – Fleetwood Mac
I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Michael Bublé
I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
Lucky – Jason Mraz
Begin Again – Colbie Caillat
I Do – Colbie Caillat
Everything – Michael Bublé
Riptide – Vance Joy
You and Tequila – Kenny Chesney
Wonderful World – Sam Cooke
Night Changes – One Direction
A Sky Full of Stars – Coldplay
Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers
One – Ed Sheeran
Tenerife Sea – Ed Sheeran
Hey, Soul Sister – Train
What If – Colbie Caillat

See anything you like?  If you’re an author, what is your favorite genre to listen to while you’re writing?  If you’re not an author, what’s you’re favorite album right now?  Have any good suggestions?  I can’t wait to share with you the book these songs inspired!

Writing Tips for Novelists

I often get asked how I write best.  I think people expect me to say, “On an island, surrounded by palm trees, with soft music flowing in the background.”  The truth is, my brain is a glutton for punishment.  If I treated it to the island of palm trees, it would completely shut down every creative nerve I have.

But to back up, I thought it would be fun to give you a few insights into my writing life and style.  I consider writing as having two phases, the most important having nothing to do with pen and paper or laptop or actually writing.  There’s the “thinking” phase and the “typing” phase.  Most creativity comes, indeed most of the story is written, during the thinking phase.  That’s when you have a spacey look in your eye, when your family and friends notice you’re not answering their questions exactly right. That’s where the magic happens.  I need 70% of my writing to happen in this phase, or I usually know the story’s not ready to be penned.  This is where you let the inspiration flow.  Often it happens (because of the brain’s rebellious spirit) when I’m still writing something else.

I don’t know about other authors, but I find it is particularly important not to cage my brain.  Don’t outline furiously.  Let it flow organically.  I usually do minimal outlining (i.e., if I “outline,” I write about ten words in chronological order so I don’t forget the general flow) and only write specific lines down if the wording as I have thought it out in my head feels particularly right. Don’t get hung up on a particular story development or plot and sit there and dwell and dwell on it, whether you’re stuck or you’ve just had a grand inspiration.  If an idea comes to you that is particularly delicious, don’t overthink it and carry it to all of its natural conclusions.  You need to leave something to keep the spark alive.  Pull back.  It’s like not wearing out your favorite song.  Leave something to be explored. 

Taking good ideas that thrill you and fleshing them out should make up most of that 30% that’s left for the typing phase.  Thinking and typing happen simultaneously during a lot of the typing phase, and that’s when the juices really get to flowing and you take your story over the edge.  That’s what saves the typing phase from being drudge work.  Sure, you’re having to spend long hours in your chair writing out things that are already in your head, but if you save some of that deliciousness and let it unfurl during the typing, the story will excite you anew, and you’ll pound it out in a couple of months.

So what about that island of soft music?  No can do for me.  During the thinking phase, I do listen to music that inspires me, but once the typing phase starts, the room must be totally silent.  I also work best under oppression, or when my mind is supposed to be entirely devoted to something else.  Are you laughing at me yet?  For example, my first week of law school basically called for me to be a performing monkey/robot.  No time was allotted for me to do anything I wanted to do (barely even squeezed in a shower), and yet, in the spirit of rebellion, my creative juices flowed like never before, and I feel like I wrote half a book in my head.  Also, sometimes at church.  Yes, I know that’s naughty.  But there’s something about knowing you’re supposed to be concentrating on something else that makes creativity sparkle.

I also need total privacy.  if I felt like someone could see what I was writing, I wouldn’t write honestly.  If I asked for someone’s opinion, I wouldn’t go with my instincts.  And honesty and instincts are the very backbone of a good writer.  Now for a few more tips as you picture me writing away in a drab, silent room…

Tips:

-Make a Spotify or Pandora playlist for your book, think of the mood of the book, take that mood one extreme further, and reflect that in the music.  If your book is spunky, play really spunky music.  If your book is serious, go for Downton Abbey trailer material.  Get the idea?  Not all of the music has to be time/place appropriate, although some of that is good.  For example, there’s a Fleetwood Mac song that that reminds me of my Civil War couple, and that’s on their playlist.  But I also add in a lot of instrumental pieces to keep me grounded in the era.

-Have someone to bounce ideas off of when you get stuck.  Occasionally that person will have some brilliant idea to fix it all, but usually the answer is already within you.  You just need to tap it.  Make sure it’s only one or two people, though, and someone you trust implicitly so you don’t lose your honesty and instincts.

-Think about your emotions.  Are you feeling it?  If you’re not, your reader very rarely is, and you’ve gotten off track.  Go back and try to find where.

-Sometimes something as little as one sentence can throw your entire story off.  You’ve described something wrong, set the wrong mood… Don’t always look for huge things.

-For writer’s block: pray.  I mean it.  I’ve been there.  There are no quick fixes.  God will show you a way through when the time is right.  And you’ll probably learn something along the way.

-To stay true to a character’s personality, get an image of the character that is the essence of their personality, and keep bringing yourself back to it when you lose them.  For example, female lead in a candlelit room with vulnerability in her eyes. Male lead staring off into the distance, lost in his thoughts.  You get the idea.

-Write to glorify God.  You might think, “How can my small town rom-com glorify Him when it doesn’t even have a religious vibe?”  It can.  You would be surprised how creative He is.  Let Him take you to the next level.

Stop by soon for the playlists from my current work-in-progress!

Death Comes to Pemberley

What can I say?  I hate books and movies that seek to ride in on the tailcoats of fame of authors who no longer have copyrights.  Besides being cheap writing, it usually makes for bad writing, the plot suffering from the confines of what has already been written, already imagined, by another brain, and inspiration, you know, usually comes easiest to the original author of the storyline and characters.

I probably wouldn’t be writing this, though if the book hadn’t achieved enough notoriety to be made into a movie, and it wouldn’t have achieved that without the word “Pemberley” in the title.

Do not look for a perfect re-drawing of Austen’s larger-than-life characters.  They, in fact, bear very little resemblance to them.  Mrs. Bennett, Lydia, and Lady Catherine are so over-drawn and afflicted with bad acting that you’ll just have to ignore them. Darcy and Elizabeth are very little like their characters, either in looks or personality.

So why am I writing this if I only intend to be ugly?

I don’t!

I have a suggestion: Pretend it bears no relation to Pride and Prejudice.  Before I did that, I almost couldn’t get through it.  Once I did it, I actually enjoyed it.  Imagine it’s a story about a young, wealthy, Regency couple, already married, happily, in a moment that crowds in on them filled with chaos.

The Darcy and Elizabeth aren’t bad, if you’re not trying to make them Darcy and Elizabeth (Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin).  In fact, they are good actors, portraying delicate emotions in their expressions without speaking, which is what we have come to expect from good British drama. Georgiana and Wickham (Eleanor Tomlinson and Matthew Goode) are great, too (and actually come closest to portraying their characters accurately).  The mystery itself is not terrible, with enough twists and drama to keep you halfway interested.

But the real value in this series is the portrayal of everyday Regency life, both for the wealthy and the not, when we flash away from the courtroom scenes.  Too often, we see the Regency damsel’s courtship, and then she rides off into the sunset with her duke.  We don’t see the ups and downs of actually becoming a married lady of rank, the responsibilities of being a patroness to many. We also don’t usually see the poverty in which many lived.

My sister commented while we were watching this, “Okay, how good would this have been if she had made up her own characters?!”  It would’ve removed all negative comments from this review, and I would have loved it.  But again, I never would’ve seen it at all probably, which could lead to some very scathing comments about the publishing and film industries, which I’m sure you’ll hear at a later date!

Currently available for purchase from Amazon.

Our Favorite Literary Couples

Happy Valentine’s Day!  In honor of this day of love, we thought we would share some of our favorite literary couples.  Who are yours? Tell us in the comments.  We always love recommendations!

Willa’s Favorites:
Jane and Mr. Rochester – Jane Eyre
Nora and Sullivan – Now That You Mention It
Anne and Captain Wentworth – Persuasion
Margaret and Mr. Thornton – North and South
Arabella and TurnipThe Mischief of the Mistletoe
Charlotte and RobertThe Temptation of the Night Jasmine
Jade and Daniel – Dancing with Fireflies
Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane – The Lady Julia Novels
Lena and Kostos – The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
Caroline and Charles – Candle in the Darkness
Brett and Jake – The Sun Also Rises

Juliet’s Favorites:
Lizzie and Darcy – Pride and Prejudice
Melanie and Ashley – Gone With the Wind
Natasha and Pierre – War and Peace
Katherine and Petruchio – The Taming of the Shrew
Serena and Rotherham – Bath Tangle
Valancy and Barney – The Blue Castle
Constance and Drew – A Bridge Most Begrudging
Kate and Lucas – The Convenient Groom
Elisabeth and Jack – Mine is the Night
Molly and James – Beyond this Moment
Venetia and Damerel – Venetia
Anne and Gilbert – Anne of Green Gables
Harriet Vane and Lord Peter – The Lord Peter Series
Sophy and Charles – The Grand Sophy
Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe – The Amelia Peabody Series
Emma and Mr. Knightly – Emma

Are yours any of the same?  Enjoy!

Happy Galentine’s Day!

In honor of Galentine’s Day, and on the off-chance you’re staying in to watch movies with your gal-pal, we here at Tea and Rebellion thought we would give you a list of our favorite Rom-Coms and Rom-Drams (if that’s a thing?)  Tell us your favorites!

Romantic Comedies:
Leap Year
While You Were Sleeping
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
27 Dresses
Yours, Mine, and Ours
Enchanted
Bride Wars
Pretty in Pink
Bridget Jones’ Diary
Made of Honor
The Holiday
An Ideal Husband
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
The Wedding Planner
The Wedding Date
The Back-Up Plan
Notting Hill
The Proposal
Two Weeks’ Notice
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
13 Going on 30
Beauty Shop
Never Been Kissed
Sweet Home Alabama

Romantic Dramas:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
North and South
(British Version)
Persuasion (2007)
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
(2011)
Under the Greenwood Tree
Emma
(1996)
Pearl Harbor
Belle
Dr. Thorne
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Far From the Madding Crowd
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Young Victoria
Gone with the Wind
Walk the Line
Under the Tuscan Sun
Sabrina
War and Peace
Downton Abbey
Little Women

Hope you enjoy!!

 

North and South

Ah, North and South.  Possible one of the greatest film adaptations we have yet seen in the 21st Century.  Airing on BBC in 2004, the mini-series stars Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage.  It was adapted from the novel by the same name published in 1855 by my girl Elizabeth Gaskell, of the Wives and Daughters and Cranford fame.  But North and South is nothing like either of those (great novels in their own right, don’t get me wrong).

It is HUGE: sweepingly grand, taking on sectional and class divides, gender issues, the Industrial Revolution, worker’s rights, death, nostalgia, human nature, and just plain old coming of age.  It is JAM-PACKED with goodies, but if literature bores you, fear not: it’s all so carefully drawn that the screenplay unfolds like your favorite novel. The filming is a work of art in historical accuracy (except Margaret’s eyebrows, sadly waxed).

I won’t talk much about the plot, because you need to watch it!  Suffice it to say, Margaret Hale leaves her idyllic home in the South of England to go north to the industrial town of Milton, where she encounters the harsh realities in the cotton mills of the Industrial Revolution.  One of the masters of the mills is Mr. Thornton, whom she originally hates, although he ultimately becomes her love interest.  The romance is subtly beautiful.  In fact, if I could find one word for the entire series, it would be subtle.

You saw, in my list of social issues above, how many conflicting points of view are at stake, but never once is Gaskell or the screenplay author heavy-handed.  In fact, we oscillate between thinking Margaret is right, and then Mr. Thornton, although we are never led there.  It is deeply, brutally honest in a way that nothing ever can be if you don’t take your own views off the table. Gaskell let things simply be as they were, challenging the norms of the Victorian Era without ever letting you know it, until you are already changed by truth.  It still resonates today, and Margaret Hale is an amazing female lead, even for today.  I can only imagine how moving it must have been in 1855.

Go watch it, if for no other reason than you need a romance fix.  You won’t be disappointed.  Currently available on Netflix.

-Tara

 

War and Peace

Le sigh.  Finally.

A relatively new period drama that is thought-provoking and intensely satisfying.  You may be familiar with Russian author Leo Tolstoy from his Nineteenth Century novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina.  This mini-series adapts the former into an eight-part sweeping drama, which was first broadcast on BBC One, and then in America simultaneously on A&E, Lifetime, and the History Channel as four two-hour episodes.

I remember when it first aired.  I got 2.5 episodes in and was engaged by the beautiful filming and good acting, but it wasn’t enough to counteract having to sit for two solid hours late at night and watch some morally questionable (truly shocking) things happen.  Now, I am a dork.  I was on Eastern time then, and this was pushing my bedtime far too late, and you basically have to be Downton Abbey to make that worth it for me.

But I had always regretted stopping it.  I couldn’t forget it and kept telling my sister about it in that annoyingly nostalgic way.  Then it popped up on Hulu (in doable 45 minute episodes), and I called it: we’re watching it.

Warning: there is a relationship so shocking at first that you’ll need to collect yourself for a few minutes.  Then again, some similar stuff happens in Genesis, so I guess we’re a namby pamby generation(?)  And there was something done by one of the characters (Andrei, played by James Norton) that made me wonder if I was going to like anybody.

But I’m happy to say that I was wrong.  War and Peace is a triumph.  You just have to watch until the third episode to see that.  Now initially, it was James Norton who brought me back.  His portrayal of the brooding and jaded Prince Andrei Bolkonsky was so well-done and different from any role I’ve seen him play that I was impressed.  I hadn’t realized his depth as an actor until War and Peace.

Now, James Norton is…rather attractive, and never more so than here (brunette works, James!).  But it was Paul Dano, who plays the initially feckless Count Bezukhov, or Pierre, who had me googling the morning after I finished the series.  He was a sensation.  I’ve not seen that level of fine acting and subtlety in a really long time.

We’re not supposed to fall in love with the un-hot Pierre, but we do.  It’s the most bizarre thing you’ve ever seen.  When it hits you that he’s the male lead, it’s like a ton of bricks.  To portray someone like Pierre (a sometimes dufus, sometimes deeply thoughtful individual, always lost, until he is found) in such a sensitive way was so far ahead of Tolstoy’s time that you instantly see why people rave about him as an author.

I won’t give away too much of the plot, but, basically, you follow five aristocratic families during a little less than a decade surrounding Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.  The series is a gem for its historical insights alone.  I mean, I didn’t know that Russia’s situation during the invasion was very comparable to the American South during the Civil War, did you?  I guess I had pictured all of Napoleon’s victims dancing in ballrooms like Almack’s with only a vague notion of what was happening “over there”.

But what truly stood out for me, and what seems so rare these days in British period drama, is that the characters did not deviate from their moral codes.  I’m not saying they were angels – most were NOT.  I’m saying there was never anything that happened that had me scratching my head and thinking another person had just invaded the character’s body a la Poldark.  Nothing was done purely for shock value.  Sometimes (often) you will be shocked, but after thinking for a moment, you’ll realize, “Oh, yeah.  That was in him all along.  I just didn’t see it.”  It is character exploration at its finest.  To be fair, it is precisely the kind of literature I like: thought-provoking, deep, a little romantic, honest, with serious events, deep feelings, bittersweet ending that still is sweet and gives a huge payoff.  It might not strike you the same, but hey, at least I can promise you won’t feel like you wasted your time.

Shout-out to Lily James, who plays the wistful Natasha Rostova.  But that really isn’t fair because the whole cast deserves endless accolades!

-Tara

The Great British Baking Show

What better place to start our reviews of movies of shows appropriate to pair with a warm cuppa than the mother of all cooking shows: known in the U.S. as the Great British Baking Show and in the U.K. as the Great British Bake-Off.

I am myself not much drawn to competitions in the kitchen, but this show was playing a few years ago before one of my Masterpiece Theater dramas (yes, I queue it up at least an hour early) (yes, it was Downton Abbey), and immediately there was something so very British about it that I was sucked in.

At first, it was the weird pastries, I’m not going to lie. Hitherto  my experience with British baking was limited to the incomprehensible descriptions of meals from the Regency novels I had read.  Cornish what?  Meat pie?  As in meat?  It’s fascinating, I tell you.  All of the little technical perfections that look incredibly unfinished to the American fondant enthusiast soon draw your admiration from the level of skill to the attention to detail.  If the best way to learn a culture is through its food, there’s no better place to start.

There’s no question they’ve got the formula right, too. They meet in a tent on the lawn of an old British manor, for heaven’s sake.  What am I supposed to do with that?  The American eye will be truly stunned by the quaintness of contestants sharing a refrigerator too small for the average home, and by the tiny oven and workspace they are given.  In America, I’m pretty sure every contestant would have their own tent, but it’s so quaint, I promise you, and the sparse supplies amp up the difficulty and competition (as is displayed by the great freezer drama of Season 5, a/k/a Bingate).

Yes, freezer drama is about as bad as it gets on the show.  The contestants are almost without exception lovely, are from all different cultures and backgrounds, and have even been known to help one another.  From the inimitable Paul Hollywood to the incomparable Mary Berry, the judges are just the kind of people that we want to repose our trust in.  Their knowledge is astounding, their snobbery humourous (oops, I just spelled that with a U!), and their decisions generally just.  In keeping with British tradition, there must be a fool to every drama, and our guides Mel and Sue have been cast perfectly.  They’re funny, goofy, comforting, and I just want them to be my friends, okay?

A word of caution: the British seasons run differently from the American, causing some confusion as to which season is next.  My advice: don’t worry too much about it: just watch whatever Netflix gives you.  The order matters but little.  Speaking of, apparently now the show will be produced by Netflix, with only Paul Hollywood returning, and a new Mary, Sue, and Mel.  I haven’t yet seen the new series, but I’ve heard good things.

I’ve got to run – the kettle’s boiling!

-Tara

Connection Error

It’s been heavy on my heart recently that our world is much too connected. Instead of wondering all day who was that I saw in the home décor section at Target, I can grab my phone and search until I figure it out. It usually doesn’t take any time, but, while it seems convenient to an annoyed brain, it’s kind of creepy. And it’s actually not very healthy.

Social experiences have been forever altered by social media. Instead of letting friendships at work or church naturally progress, we know by our own countless scrolls through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. what our friends had for dinner, how sweet their husband was to bring them flowers, the items they didn’t find valuable enough to keep or use in their yard sale…

We keep up with the lives of ex-boyfriends, ex-best-friends, that girl who let us borrow a crayon every single day in kindergarten, friends from college and old jobs, neighbors, family members we’ve never met, and a few weirdos we still see too often in real life to delete.

It occurred to me that we are much too connected when the first response I had to a potential boyfriend was to check him out on social media. Make sure all the right boxed were checked and no red flags waved me down. Believe me, I understand the value of this. By this system, we are able to eliminate- for the most part- the creeps or the losers who post shirtless selfies. I only noticed something was fundamentally wrong with this system when all of my many boxes did check off and no flags snagged my attention. What’s a girl to do then?

I found that the guy I was deeply interested in didn’t have many things to tell me as we got to learn each other that I wasn’t already aware of. In under three minutes of social media searches I figured out his religious affiliation, who he backed in the 2016 Presidential election, his dog’s name, what kind of movies he liked, what his last girlfriend looked like, his sports record, and so much, too much more. Amazing, right? It’s like I should be a private investigator or something. But this isn’t a talent specific to me.

I realized that our lives were too interlocked with people we don’t really know when I had to unfollow a friend on Facebook because the constant reminder of their face and the updates of their life’s work stressed me out. I hadn’t seen this friend since elementary school. Why did I need to know the intimate details of their day?

If we were truly close, truly connected, wouldn’t we have more contact that the posts I inadvertently absorbed? It’s freaky that our minds process the things we see so much that this person made guest appearances in my dreams. Wakeup call: I needed to fill my eyes with something a bit more meaningful. I needed to work on myself. I needed to move forward, not dwell on people in the past who weren’t a part of my present.

We absorb so much of what we see on social media that it influences our perception of ourselves. Body image issues are hard enough to tackle without the constant reminder that Becky really does have better hair, or that girl you did cheerleading with as a child has obviously kept up her physique a little more than moi. Comparisons aren’t fair to our bodies.

I knew that connection error was a problem when my niece was born. My brother and sister-in-law refused to put any pictures of her on social media, and people freaked out. Full disclosure, both of them are darlings to all around them, and, naturally, everyone wanted to see their darling, too. They wanted instant gratification, almost like they deserved. But that’s weird, right? Like, come to the hospital or visit them at home. Don’t take the easy way out. It isn’t natural. Don’t expect real-life emotions to hit you the same from a screen. It isn’t fair to the people you love.

It occurred to me that we are much too connected when I found out through social media that a cousin of mine got engaged. Let me rephrase that, when I watched my cousin get engaged because they shared the proposal video. I haven’t seen or talked to my cousin in five years. I have never met his fiancée. But I know his proposal story. I have a visual of the pretty setting, the nervous energy, the sweet reactions, the sizable ring, all of it. Too much of it. This isn’t natural, is it?

I knew that our connectedness was a problem when on a recent vacation I was more concerned with getting the right lighting for a picture of a live oak tree in Savannah than putting my phone down long enough to watch the Spanish moss sway. The Lord’s beautiful landscape, and I didn’t think to thank Him. I used his creation for my own purposes, and that’s pretty selfish. I know I’m not the only one.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been guilty of this. Every summer, fellow Tea & Rebellion author Juliet Wilkes and I take a girls trip to enjoy a bit of history, the ocean, fabulous food, our favorite books, brainstorm story ideas, hopefully find some nice tea, and recap our personal growth from the previous year (really, everything our blog presents you with). We try to take as many pictures as we can for references and for you, fellow rebellious tea enthusiast.

I often fuss at Juliet for always catching me at my worst moments. You know the ones: triple neck out, cheeks overstuffed with food, bad angles of my backside, etc. Inaccurate representations, obviously (hopefully), but social media has influenced me so much that I can’t even laugh at myself or see how pleased I was with the food in front of me in the photo.

We live in a very ME-centered world, and while we may think that sharing the highlights of our trips and lives with all our friends isn’t self-interested, it is. Listen to me, it is. Maybe you’re not like me, but doesn’t it bother you if your posts don’t get any likes? Maybe even if someone specifically doesn’t recognize it, because maybe that’s proof that they don’t recognize your worth.

That brings me to the bigger point. Why have we let the convenience of technology consume every aspect of our lives? We’re never truly unplugged. It’s a crazy horse, an addiction we can’t stop. But why? I am so connected to my phone. It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I see before I fall asleep. I replace meaningfulness with mindlessness. If you’re like me, you need to work on some gaping hole in your life that you’re filling with this time. Connectedness is the iceberg lettuce of your life. It’s a filler meal with surprisingly little nutritional value.

I’m not suggesting you give up social media accounts or even your smartphone. I understand that these technologies are part of the fabric of our modern society. I understand that it’s hard not to answer your phone immediately or check it every time it buzzes. But I challenge you to be less connected to the outside world and grow yourself and spend quality time with the people you love, not the ones you look at all the time on a screen.

Any progress in this area has been hard for me, and believe me, there are setbacks. It’s such a habit now to click the icons on my phone and connect with everyone else. Is this healthy? Nope. The only way I’ve seen any headway in my progress is to take Sundays off from my phone. I will still answer calls in case someone truly needs me, but otherwise, I have been trying to dedicate this time to rest. A recent Bible study has motivated me to remember that Sundays are meant for worship and rejuvenation, and I challenge you to try it by giving up your connectedness. If you’re like me, Facebook won’t be so enjoyable come Monday morning when you return to it.

Juliet has deleted the apps from her phone as a way of avoiding idle social media scrolls. I took a week off from my accounts during Lent, and I wish I had continued the whole period. It’s freeing. It refreshes your spirit. You’ll see that you have more time for other things, and you might be able to finish that book that’s been lying around or start a new miniseries on Netflix with your family. Maybe even more realistically, you can start a load of laundry.

I get it. You’re tired after a long day. You don’t want to talk or cook or clean just yet. All you want to do is flip on the tv and rest a minute. What’s so wrong with getting on your phone then? You’ve definitely earned the right to do what you want with your time. But, remember, the iceberg lettuce of your life is just a filler. You’re not getting any more rest looking at your phone than you would be doing something else. You’re not improving your mind or your relationships with those you love. You’re not going to get relaxed getting briefed on your neighbor’s cat’s first trip to the vet. Pick up some new habits. Maybe even close your eyes for a minute. Enjoy some peace. You deserve it.

Don’t feel guilty about unplugging. Don’t worry about missing something or offending someone. People will get in touch when they need to. Human interaction is a natural thing, and something we should get back to. Enjoy natural, honest-to-goodness reactions. Be surprised when that date tells you he likes Bruno Mars too. Let your cousin be the one to tell you he’s engaged. Visit a newborn baby in the hospital.

Get out there and enjoy the world around you. Take pictures to remember, not to impress. But always, always take pictures. Go outside and hike without chronicling your friends with every step. Or for girls like me, stay in under a cozy blanket with a candle burning and a steamy cup of tea, and catch up on some Audrey Hepburn movies. Or bake an intricate cake that expends way too much of your energy with your daughter without sharing the recipe or a picture of the final product with your friends.

Enjoy things for your own benefit. Adventure without the stress of perfect angles and lighting, or making some rando take another picture of you because the last one captured that last bit of holiday weight a little too accurately. Do what makes you happy. Don’t be so involved in what makes other people happy.

I will leave you with some insight far better than my own from 2 John 12:12 (NIV):

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

I encourage you not to let the new norms of our social-media-centered society hinder your progress of self-care and meaningful relationships. The world is at your fingertips, but so is the ability to make your joy complete.

With Love,
Willa James.