The Unexpected Blessing of Social Media

Can I say something that most people don’t seem to want to these days? I really kind of love social media. I know we’re supposed to be skeptical of it, nervous about it, burdened by it, bored with it – and I’ll admit that I was reluctant to get involved in it in the first place. But now? I’m so grateful for its place in my life.

So often social media is presented as a barrier to “real” relationships with people – as if people choose to stay home with their laptops and smartphones rather than go out into the world to be physically present to the people in their lives. Maybe that’s how it works for some. But for me, social media has been more boon than barrier.

Facebook allows me to connect with “IRL” family and friends better than pretty much anything else I can imagine, save a utopian walking community in which everyone’s backyards abut each other. My family is big and busy and mostly spread from one end of a sprawling metropolitan area to the other. Even if we saw each other more frequently than we do (and we see each other pretty frequently by most families’ standards), there’s only so much in-person catching up I could do with my 70-odd closest relatives (not exaggerating – I counted) given my responsibility for keeping track of these four relatives:

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And then there are the family members who live great distances from us. Because of Facebook, I know that my two little cousins in Maine are learning the art of beekeeping. I know that they’ve resumed their riding lessons and that they just swam in the lake for the first time this season. I get to cheer my cousin and his wife in San Diego as they run their (very intimidating and impressive to me) marathons and half-marathons. I get to watch my teenage and twenty-something cousins in St. Louis and Chicago and Nashville go off to proms and colleges and fall in love.

I get to know new friends more quickly and I get to know old friends better. I get to enjoy playdates where my girlfriends and I don’t feel like strangers from postponing a half-dozen times because somebody is always getting sick.

Social media also enables me to be “myself” better than any situation I can imagine. (Even my fantasy utopian communities have their limitations.) Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I do limit it to the three) allow me to indulge in a custom mix of my favorite interests, values, and personalities – a cocktail of politics and history and faith, of smart/witty/wise/idealistic/self-deprecating Catholic writers, of home-making and child-rearing and beauty found in the ordinary.

They allow me to connect with people who share those interests and values, to make friendships that transcend geography.

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Social media gives me opportunities to understand people and to love them.

On a daily basis, it presents me with more diversity and a wider range of experiences and ideas than I would ever bump up against in my physical community. It helps me put myself in someone else’s shoes; it makes obvious to me the common threads that run through families and communities that seem so different.

Social media allows me to nurture a fondness, a tenderness, not just for my family and friends, but also for the loved ones of those I’ve loved somewhere along the way. (You should see the piercing blue eyes of my college roommate’s little girl and the deep brown eyes of my high school friend’s little boy. You should read the hilarious kid quotes. You should hear how beautifully my friends love their spouses, their siblings, their children, their parents.)

Social media allows me to feel my role in the Body of Christ, praying for and supporting those in need, working with others to accompany people through their trials.

Are there problems with social media and the role it has come to play in our lives? Of course there are. There are problems with just about every way in which we humans come together. When engaging in social media, we should hold to the same principles we (hopefully) do in other human interactions: be kind, consider where others are coming from, watch what you say, consider your own disposition, recognize that the world is full of people who are like and unlike you in a million important and not-so-important ways. Love. Enjoy the people you encounter. Accept the light they bring to your life and offer a little in return.

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Courtney’s Love

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the Little Sisters of the Poor and their loving, life-giving ministry to those who are nearing the end of their lives. I’ve thought about that post, and the work of the Little Sisters, a lot since writing it.

I thought of it when learning of a friend’s death this summer from brain cancer. I thought (and continue to think) of it when hearing about Ebola victims in Liberia, where many die without the comfort of human touch or even simple, loving attention, due to the (well-founded) fears of transmitting the disease. I thought of it the other day while listening to yet another episode of the Diane Rehm Show, this one about “Being Mortal: What Matters In The End.”

And I have especially thought of it while reading Facebook and blog updates from Mary Lenaburg, of Passionate Perseverance. For those of you unfamiliar with her blog, Mary has a 22-year-old daughter, Courtney, with some very special needs. Courtney is unable to talk or walk, to feed herself, even to see. She also experiences frequent, frightening, and often severe seizures. Sadly, it now appears that Courtney’s life is nearing its end.

Mary and her family have spent years (and a not-insignificant amount of money) caring for Courtney and providing for her every need and comfort. Doctors’ visits, therapies, surgeries, medicines, tube feedings, illnesses, hygiene care, round after round of wrangling with insurance companies – the Lenaburgs have done it all.

That’s remarkable enough – the sheer work and angst of caring for a completely dependent, very ill child for 22 years. But what’s more remarkable, and more to the point, is that the Lenaburgs have loved.

Courtney Lenaburg has been loved unlike anyone I’ve ever encountered in my life.

Mary and Jerry Lenaburg and their son Jonathan have loved Courtney through their work to care for her. But they’ve also talked to her, prayed with her, read to her, laughed with her, held her, clasped her hands, given her massages, sewed her clothes, dressed her with great attention, made her surroundings beautiful and cheerful… and so much more.

Honestly, nothing I write here can come close to describing all the ways in which the Lenaburgs have loved Courtney.

Mary and Jerry have also, through their extended family, their church, and Mary’s blog (and many other avenues, I’m sure), built up an incredible community of friends around Courtney, and around themselves. They’ve loved those friends too. They’ve prayed for them, they’ve helped them, and they’ve afforded them the great privilege of doing the same.

(When I was in labor with my youngest, Mary sent me a message to tell me that she and Courtney were praying for me. I’m sure that I’m one of many, many people to have received such a message from the Lenaburgs through the years.)

I don’t know Mary well. We met last summer at Like Mother, Like Daughter’s DC meet-up. We enjoyed a great Cuban dinner together with another Mary friend a couple of months later. And my boys and I had the opportunity to visit with Mary and Courtney at their home this past spring. Yet I feel like I know Mary well. Part of that, I think, is the mark of a good blogger. But the bigger part of it is that Mary puts her love out there for the world to see, and that love has a way of catching you, of drawing you close and folding you up as if it were your own.

In this year of knowing Mary (and through her, Courtney), I’ve learned something about love. (An undefined, powerful kind of something that I feel in my chest, but can hardly describe except to say, “I’ve got to love more.”) I’ve learned something about loving your child, your husband, your friends, about loving God. I’ve learned something about loving through hardship, about tenacity and stretching to meet the challenges put before you.

And I’m just one person.

I have a hard time conceiving of just how many people have been touched and taught by the Lenaburgs. Courtney’s love has gone out into the world and done amazing things, I’m sure of it. It’s softened hearts, it’s shored-up relationships, it’s brought people closer to God. It’s spurred generosity and engendered gratitude. It’s helped people to see the value in those around them. What a beautiful legacy.

As Courtney’s time here comes to a close, I am comforted (not that I have any right to require comfort) by the knowledge that when she passes, Courtney will be surrounded by as much love as one could possibly be. And that she’ll be passing straight from the loving arms of her earthly family to the loving arms of her heavenly Father.

Love, love, love.

The beautiful thing, of course, about the Little Sisters of the Poor is also love – their love for Christ, their love for those whom they serve. Just as the Lenaburgs care for, love, and pray for Courtney, so do the Little Sisters care for, love, and pray for the elderly poor.

What a gift.

It is this love – between Mary and Courtney, between the members of the Lenaburg family, their friends, and their online community, between the Little Sisters of the Poor and the elderly poor – it is this love, a gift from God, which touches us and teaches us and gives us a glimpse of the divine.

Thank you, Mary, for sharing your love with us – for sharing Courtney with us.

~~~

To learn more about Mary and Courtney, please visit Passionate Perseverance. The Lenaburgs are having a particularly rough (and now in some ways, a particularly blessed) time of it right now. Not only are they caring for Courtney and preparing to say goodbye to her, but they’re also planning Courtney’s funeral. On top of that, Jerry is slated to be laid-off from his job at the end of the month. And (can you believe there’s an “and”?) they’ve just learned they’ll need to make some major (read: expensive) repairs to their sewage line.

In the past 24 hours (the 24 hours it took me to finish this post!) there’s been a tremendous upsurge of support for the Lenaburgs, so it looks like the repair costs will be taken care of. But they could still use help in covering the cost of Courtney’s funeral and in paying down their medical debt. I hope you’ll consider helping them out if you’re able. GoFundMe and PayPal buttons are located on Mary’s blog. Thanks in advance for any assistance you provide – and for your prayers!