I quit listening to podcasts for a week and this is what happened

I turned off the background noise of other people’s thoughts for a week because it was making me nuts, and hoo-boy did it make a difference.

A black and white photo of a pair of broken earbud headphones

CONFESSION: I listen to 4-6 hours of podcasts per day. And given that I’m both a freelance writer and have a toddler at home with me, that’s a significant portion of my day.

Like, too much of it.

So I decided to quit for a week. Just to see if maybe, just maybe, all those other voices and all that extra noise in my head was causing me more stress than the stuff I was trying to distract myself from in the first place.

I’ve actually done this before but always as part of church-wide prayer and fasting. This time I’m doing it solo, which provides way more opportunity for cheating and quitting, so I created accountability for myself with a daily journal, shared below for your voyeuristic enjoyment.

Read along, then slide in the comments to commiserate about all the ways you distract yourself that are probably not helpful!

If you want to skip the daily notes and jump right to the takeaways section, you can click right here and do that thing.


Monday

This was a work day, when I don’t podcast much anyway, and I missed the gym because tired, so I didn’t encounter many obstacles. Spending a good chunk of my time writing about why I’m abstaining and then sharing it helped, too. Don’t underestimate the power of putting your intentions in writing and/or telling someone. Even if you never mention it again, it signals to your brain that you’re serious. So helpful.

That said, there was momentary resistance at two points, both of which were expected: kitchen time and ablutions. Those are my time, the time when Mama gets to tune out and do her thing, and I always have something on. It gives my brain something to do while my hands are busy. Not having that entertainment caused a glitch in my flow, but it only caught me for a moment. Then I put on some actual music instead. I’d forgotten how much I like that.

Day 1, a rousing success!

Tuesday

I decided at 5am when my alarm went off that I’m not going to the gym this week. Between the hella-early start time and the lack of podcasts to disappear into, I don’t think I can face it. I’ll go back next week and hide all the cookies until then.

While I was supposed to work this day, I ended up running a mishmash of errands, which meant lots of time in the car—my second-biggest podcasting time. Fortunately, I’d prepared by putting music on my phone for the first time in approximately a hundred years. Jamming to old favourites like Marvelous 3 and Squeeze really lifted my mood, even when a great-grandmother nearly T-boned me at the grocery store.

Several wins today! But I admit to being a bit disappointed. The stress-related jaw clenching is still there, and my singing parts gave out so quickly that they’re either massively out of shape or I’m even more chronically sick than I thought. It’s only day two, though. Holding it lightly.

Another expected-yet-frustrating hurdle: showering. I always have something on. Music is okay for this experiment (and starting one’s day with worship is never a bad idea), but something deeper needed silence. I left my phone in the kitchen. I didn’t have any grand revelations in the shower, but I did notice I was thinking. That sounds stupid and obvious, but the fact that they were my own thoughts and not someone else’s is meaningful.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully (at least as far as this is concerned—every day is eventful with a three-year old). Driving my husband to the start point for this year’s ruck wasn’t bad since we kept each other occupied, but I think I cheated on the way back. I downloaded SJ Tucker’s story albums specifically for Mack, and we listened to that on the way home. I’m not sure if that breaks the rules, but it didn’t feel like it? So I won’t count it against myself. Besides, I could barely listen anyway because I was so focused on the rain on my windshield.

Another good day! I’m feeling much more at ease in the silence. We will see what more driving days bring, though.

I did notice I was thinking. That sounds stupid and obvious, but the fact that they were my own thoughts and not someone else’s is meaningful.

Thursday

Mack was supposed to have a playdate, but she claimed a bellyache, so they stayed in downstairs. This shouldn’t have changed my day, but gastrointestinal symptoms shoot me into orbit, so instead of writing, I deep-cleaned the house. Ordinarily, this is when I’d podcast it up hard; long stretches of time doing mindless tasks is primo listening time. But instead, I fired up my “Nostalgia” playlist and rocked out to late-90s hits and Ayumi Hamasaki. I used to do this all the time when I’d clean the whole house once a week (what was I even doing with my life back then), and it was refreshing to have a beat to work to.

I am struggling a bit with expectations, though. Because I’m intentionally making mental space, and God is talking all the time, I expected to get a big revelation/word right away, especially given the season we’re in. But the closest thing I’ve had is when I was vacuuming and directly asked what He wanted to say to me, all I heard was, “You’re drinking too much caffeine.” And honestly, I’m 50/50 on whether or not that was actually Satan.

maybe, just maybe, all those other voices and all that extra noise in my head was causing me more stress than the stuff I was trying to distract myself from

Friday

There was a lot going on this day, so I honestly didn’t notice the lack of background podcasts. Visiting all morning with a friend, working during naptime, and trying to clean the office/playroom with Mack made the day full of sound in its own right.

I will say that I did notice a correlation between drinking mostly decaf coffee and my jaw being less tense at the end of the day. Now, I’m not making any wild statements like I actually did hear from the Lord yesterday and not the enemy who comes to steal, kill, and destroy my caffeine intake, but the odds are skewing that way.

Saturday

This day was a trashfire. Mackenzie was in fine form beginning at breakfast and didn’t let up until she passed out (at night, because hahaha joke’s on you if you thought she’d nap). I almost broke down in tears twice.

This matters because the tenor of the day revealed just how severely circumstances impact my craving to put on a podcast and check the eff out. All I wanted was to not be where I was, doing what I was doing; podcasts let me do that when I physically can’t.

BUT. Because my head is clearer, I could see how not doing that made everything better. When I’m in that mode, I obsessively turn the podcast on and off trying to focus on it to get relief, but it competes with other audio signals (Mackenzie, running water, the TV) for attention, and that ramps up my frustration faster than if I addressed what’s upsetting me in the first place. In that situation, podcasts are lighter fluid on a grass fire. Not having access to them during this particularly stressful day highlighted their futility (and actual harm) in moments I think I need them most.

*stroking her beard* Interesting….

the tenor of the day revealed just how severely circumstances impact my craving to put on a podcast and check the eff out

Sunday

I woke up to discover the annoyance I’ve felt every morning is almost totally gone. Each day, I’ve had this nagging tug of ughdontwanna about morning ablutions; for some reason, I want someone talking to me first thing. But today, I was perfectly happy to put on chill instrumental music like I’ve been doing for dishes and bedtime. A win!

Sundays don’t usually get a lot of listening between church and family time, so I didn’t miss much here. Instead of podcasts on the drive to pick up Lino from the long walk, I shared my favorite Urge album with Mackenzie (she liked it). The drive, the chores, the ablutions—all of it passed peacefully, with barely a blip of sound-struggle.

A successful last day!


TAKEAWAYS

It cleared and focused my mind, enabled me to be more present with my kid, released anxiety and tension from my body, and made space for me to hear both my own voice and the voice of God.

I didn’t want to do this fast. Who wants to deprive themselves of a creature comfort, especially one that’s free and doesn’t do lasting damage to your body, even it’s only a measly week?

But re-reading these daily notes, it’s obvious that it needed to be done. You can sense the tension dropping as the days went on and the chaos in my mind stilled.

By the end, what I noticed most wasn’t what was there but what wasn’t: the lack of needing to put something on the second there was a pause. That almost subconscious impulse to fill all available space with voices now fades away as fast as it pops up.

I am a bit sad that I didn’t have any major revelations, but that isn’t actually the point. (Although that thing about drinking too much caffeine turned out to be legit.)

Much like a crash diet won’t change your life forever, a break from podcasting is a short-term confrontation of a larger issue. I needed to get real about the nature of my listening addiction, and I did precisely that.

Going forward

While podcasts will be coming back into my daily life, I’ve unsubscribed from half my list and deleted episodes stored up “just in case.” Heaven forbid I be without something to jam in my earholes!

I’m also declaring the start of my day a no-podcast-zone. Those precious couple of hours before the toddler spools up is when I meet with God, and I can’t really do that in a genuine way when I’m hopped up on someone else’s thoughts.


Final thoughts

Overall, this fast did exactly what I needed it to do. It cleared and focused my mind, enabled me to be more present with my kid, released anxiety and tension from my body, and made space for me to hear both my own voice and the voice of God.

I just hope I can remember all this the next time I find myself teetering on the edge of a breakdown with someone else’s voice shouting in my ears.


YOUR TURN!

I’d love to hear from you! Especially if you read all this.

Do you have fill up every empty moment to distract yourself from the stresses of adulting, too? What’s your vice? Have you been able to address it?

Share your story in the comments and lets support each other in our first-world, digital-age struggles!

It’s just furniture, but also more than just furniture

Yesterday, we sold our first piece of real furniture as part of our Florida adventure. And I’m shook.

It’s just a cabinet.

That’s what I keep telling myself. Just furniture. Just wood and glass and tiny pieces of metal.

It’s just stuff.

But no matter how many times I say it, it still stings.

Yesterday, we sold our first piece of real furniture. We’ve been paring down and selling/donating/trashing our (surprisingly numerous) possessions for months as we get ready to move to Florida, but it’s all been inconspicuous stuff. Papers and glassware and endtables. That kind of thing.

But this cabinet? I love(d) it.

It was one of those little winks from God that says, “I know you.” I’m one of those people who likes to see their stuff, but I also need things arranged neatly. I’ve always wanted glass-front cabinets. Yet I never bought any because—I don’t know if you know this, but—antiques are expensive. So when my friend gave us this beautiful piece that fit perfectly into our home (and lives—I used it as a standing desk for six months), it was truly a thoughtful gift from my heavenly dad.

And if we weren’t getting ready to pack up everything we own in the smallest possible U-Haul and move two thousand miles south, we would have kept it forever.

But we are.

So we can’t.

It’s just not practical. It’s fragile. It’s heavy. It doesn’t actually hold that much stuff. And there are other much more important things that need its spot in the truck. My ten boxes of books, for example.

So away it went. Off to a sweet hipster couple who will probably paint it chalk white and put books in it that they’ll never read.

The reason this is even worth writing about is that it makes the whole “sell everything you own and move to Florida to start a church” thing a hell of a lot more real.

All the stuff we’ve purged up until now is stuff we should have gotten rid of anyway. Random things hidden in closets or mementos of past lives long outgrown.

Letting go of this piece that nestled so sweetly in my heart, this piece that would have become a family heirloom, reminded me that the sacrifices we’re called to make on this grand adventure aren’t superficial. This was just the sale of some boards hammered together—we’re leaving behind a community of family and friends, the fabric of our daughter’s universe, and a history of transformation and salvation.

This cabinet is just furniture. There will be more, even if it’s milk crates for a while (again—ah, college).

But it’s also a reminder that, the old has to go in order to make room for the new; that God promises double restoration to those who suffer in pursuit of his kingdom. It’s a reminder not to be too attached to the things of this world, for they’re passing away. That there’s more to this life and the next than what I think I need to be happy.

It’s just stuff. But it’s more than that, too.

Short, dark wood glass-front china cabinet with glassware and bar.

How to be left behind: the power of staying

In the first half of this story, I learned what home means. Now, I have to learn what it means to be left behind.

Two women in silhouette sitting on a guard rail waiting for a train at night

Quick recap: I used to be able to leave anyone, anywhere, anytime. But there came I day when I couldn't leave. I chose to surrender my power of leaving and was rewarded with finally knowing what "home" really means. And just as I was confidently walking in my new, connected, cozy reality, God asked me to leave.

So, I tell you that story so I can tell you this one.

The call to move to Florida and plant a church came in January, bringing with it a cavalcade of questions.

Why us? What could we possibly add to this team of pastors and elders? What do we tell our families? Where will we live? How do you get a visa? How do we get jobs? What’s the exchange rate? When does school start? Do we need to sell all our stuff? When do we go?

But one particular question didn’t join the flashmob. It stood patiently outside the throng, waiting for the excitement to die down and for every other question to settle itself as best it could. For two months, it waited.

And then one day, after all the paperwork was mailed and a launch date was set, it whispered,

Why now?

It was so quiet and so sad, like the voice of a scared child, that when I finally heard it, I stopped washing the dishes, sat down on the kitchen stepstool, and cried.

Why now? Why—after years of painstakingly teaching me what it means to belong, to be from somewhere, to be part of a community, to have roots—why would God ask me to leave my hard-won home for a place I’ve never been and a people that aren’t mine? Why not before I lost the power of leaving? When it wouldn’t have hurt so terribly to think of saying goodbye? When I knew what to do with my belongings and my heart?

I prayed through the tears, begging for God to explain this cruel game of keep-away. But all that came was a concerned toddler asking why Mommy was crying. So I dried my face, hugged my baby, took a deep breath, and went about my day.


That was in March.

And every day that passed after, the question made sure I didn’t forget it. It greeted me when I woke up, slid into my thoughts during the day, and tucked me into bed at night. It was always there—never angry or demanding, but there.

Time didn’t help. Unlike nearly all of my other zillion questions about the move, it had no practical answer. There was no form I could fill out, no research I could do, no expert I could pay. No matter how I tried to resolve it, the question remained.

Why now?

One morning, I was sitting at my desk, watching the hazy Hamilton sunrise, writing in my journal to work through the sticky emotions that cropped up from being delayed in our leaving yet again. The decision to stay until at least November when we thought we’d be gone by August compounded the question.

Why now?
and
Why NOT now?

Why do we have to stay while the rest of the team leaves? Why are we being left behind? Will we get left out? Are they starting without us? Is there still a place for us? Are we actually meant to go?

Line after line, I tried to come to terms with the whiplash I felt, the disappointment and resentment and jealousy. The terror of abandonment. I scribbled my way through reminders that everything has a purpose, that the work is always here and now, and that people naturally pull away from what’s exiting their lives.

That reminded me of all the promises I’ve made to now long-lost friends during farewell parties. Pledges to stay in touch and to visit. I thought of how much I meant it at the time and how they wanted to believe me. I thought of how I knew it was bullshit even as I said it.

And that’s when the answer came.

You need to learn what it means to stay behind.

I caught my breath as understanding crashed over me. The pen quivered in my hand and tears sprang to my eyes.

Of course.

Learning the meaning of home was only the first half of the lesson. Now that I know what it means to have your heart fully in a place, I need to know what it’s like to stay there when someone you love leaves. To have them slice off a piece of that heart and take it with them, most likely to dry out and rot, forgotten in the swirling excitement of their new life—without you.

I’ve spent my entire life being the one who leaves, the one who gets the fresh start, the one with a shining future ahead. I’ve never given a moment’s consideration to the feelings of the people I’ve left behind. And now God wants to complete my understanding of home by teaching me what it’s like to be on both sides of the leaving.

Because our friends here have to do the hard, brave work of filling the gaps we leave behind. People who are forever written into my story and me into theirs and who shouldn’t have to inherit my empty promises.

Because our families will be thousands of miles away, some for the first time ever, and we cannot rely on mere feelings of obligation to maintain our connection.

Because we’re going to Florida, a state with one of the highest immigrant populations in the union. We’re walking into a community filled with people who have left behind family and friends in search of a better life, as well as those who have been left behind themselves. How can I possibly have compassion for their experience—and the experience of those not with them, those that weigh so heavy on their hearts—when I’ve been so callous and blasé about it in the past? How can I hope to show the fullness of God’s love for them if my own heart has only seen one facet of the story?

Our delay has a purpose. But it hurts. It’s hard. I don’t like it. I’m sad and lonely and worried. I’m afraid of being forgotten. I’m afraid of so many things.

But in this pain, I’m healing. In the waiting, I’m learning to be joyful despite uncertainty, to engage instead of withdraw, to be hopeful when it’s easier to despair. This is where wisdom and compassion and wholeness come from. The strength and grace to help others through their own struggle for peace.

And where we’re going, I’m going to need it.

What I mean when I say I’m a Christian

The labels we choose for ourselves are, at best, shorthand for the full story of our heart.

An abstract painting of a mouth and a megaphone surrounded by colorful swirls and shapes

When I say that I am a Christian, what you hear is probably not what I say.

When I say that I am a Christian, I mean

that I’m alive when I wanted to be dead

that I’m married when I should be divorced

that after thirty-five years of the horrors of war—of attack and betrayal and torture and mutilation of self—that there is peace on this battlefield

that I finally recognize the voice of my enemy, which used to sound like myself but now sounds like sweet honey over a worn-out clutch grinding in the distance

that nothing is wasted, not failure or success, not disorder or delight, not bitter or sweet, not time before or time after

that it’s all been worth it.

When I say that I am a Christian, I mean

that lost and found aren’t fixed states but an ongoing game of hide and seek

that fear nips at my heels when it should be crushed beneath them

that I still swear and drink and ignore the homeless man at the intersection and eat my feelings and hurt people sometimes

that I am broken

that I am holy anyway

that I am made of words and earth and breathe borrowed breath and wield power I have not yet begun to grasp

that I am reclaimed and remade, translated and transfigured, chosen and changed

that I am myself.

When I say that I am a Christian, I mean

that I don’t have all the answers and never will and am learning to be okay with that

that what I do know is that there is a love longer and wider and higher and deeper than any and every poets’ ideal

that such love has a name

that I am more interested in the vibrancy of your soul than your partner or your politics

that I love you whether you believe me or not

when I say that I am a Christian.

State of the Ellie: August 2019

A (not so) brief summary of my July. Featuring a nagging case of FOMO, professional maturity, toddler attitude, and being bored with my health updates.

Another Way by Justin Peters - A man in a black leather jacket holds an umbrella with a road and landscape on top

The State of the Ellie is a monthly reflection on what’s been going on in my world for the last 30ish days.

Since the last one was late, this month’s update is of the quick ‘n’ dirty variety to avoid belaboring past points. Also, while July wasn’t calendar-busy, it was internally busy, so buckle up.

Florida

The news here is the same as last time: we’re shooting for November. As we get closer to Thanksgiving, I’m sure things will get nuts again, but for now, we’re back in hurry-up-and-wait mode. Which has given me existential whiplash. It took me a while to figure out why I’ve been feeling so tender, distracted, and lost after the timeline shift, but it’s so obvious now. We were running full tilt getting ready to go for August, then had a concrete wall slam down in front of us. Of course I’m discombobulated—going from 100 to 0 hurts.

I’m also coping with a nagging case of FOMO (as inadvertently evidenced by the story I wrote last week). Most of our team is heading south this month, and frankly, I’m jealous. The delay in our departure makes sense (for more than just immigration purposes—see “Family” below), but there is a huge part of me that just wants to go. To be there, to be starting. There’s another, crappier part of me that’s sulking about feeling left out. I know God’s using this to root out pride and abandonment issues, which is good, but uggggghhhhh. Unpleasant. Right now, I’m choosing to be excited for everyone else and to be as patient as possible until our number is called. It’s not how long you wait but your attitude while waiting that counts, right?

Work

There’s a serious leveling up happening here right now. While I don’t have a full slate of clients (yet), the work I’m doing with them, the way I handle my schedule, and even the rates I charge are morphing from wobbly-legged amateur to sort-of-confident professional person. I’m taking on challenges that make me uncomfortable but not uneasy. I’m valuing my time and skills more. I’m finding new ways, places, and times to work that seemed impossible five years ago.

I’m growing, you guys.

There’s still a fair amount of chaos, and I’m still looking for clients, but there’s a new undercurrent of competency I’ve never felt in my business life before. And I kinda like it.

Also: I wrote my first fiction last week for the first time in two years. I had to double check the dates because that doesn’t seem real. I miss it so much. I have tons of story ideas, and I want so badly to finish Forgotten Relics. But I can’t seem to pull my mental/creative/temporal shit together. Then I fall into the comparison trap—“XYZ author person writes all their novels while working 40 hours a week and homeschooling their five kids and…”—you know. Anyway. The desire is there. I can’t make any promises, but I will say there’ve been inklings in my prayer time that full-blown fiction is returning. Someday.

Family

Less than a week after we had to delay Florida, we found out why we needed to: Lino’s mom was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night with heart issues that resulted in her getting a pacemaker. I’ll spare the long story, but the upshot is that we’re really glad we decided to stay. She’s facing a lot of changes in her life that we need (want!) to be present for and to support. On top of that, my sister-in-law is expecting her second baby mid-August, so we get to be present for and to support her through that newborn season, too. So it turned out that what we’d been angsting about as a setback to building the Kingdom was actually a green light (reminder) to be doing it here, now.

Parenting

I always feel like I should have so much more to write here. How do those mommybloggers do it?!

Each month that goes by intensifies Mackenzie’s toddlerness. The last couple of weeks, her attitude has ratcheted up to teenage Valley Girl levels, including once telling her daddy “don’t worry about what I’m doing and mind your own business.” I….what. We’re at a bit of a loss as to how to discipline that, but are doing our best to be consistent with what we know to do. We also suspect that, after six months of not needing a nap, she might need one again. The couple of times we made her lay down due to a late night, her attitude was markedly improved. Hrm….*strokes beard*

Also (TMI ALERT): Mack’s big accomplishment this month is that she all the sudden decided to start pooping on the little potty in the morning and then get right back in bed to wait for her wakeup call. WHAT. She’s been daytime trained since May, but we’ve purposely not started night training because we don’t want to deal with any stress-based regressions in the mattress department due to moving. But, hey, if she wants to poop on the potty, I’m all for it.

Health

Guys, I’m so bored with this category. It’s one of the regulars, but honestly, it’s the same stuff all the time. Cold symptoms, aching joints, weird stuff doctors don’t care much about because it isn’t bad enough. Blah, blah, blah. You guys deserve better than this. Suffice to say, I’m on sinus infection #2 of the year. Two more and the ENT will give a crap about what I say. Hooray?

Miscellaneous

  • My reading life is picking up! I wrestled that Tolkien to the ground, finally, and rewarded myself with Redshirts and a few YA graphic novels I randomly grabbed at the library. Going on to Murakami shorts next. Gotta retrain my flabby brain after four years of basically just reading nutritional labels.
  • Our local libraries show movies for free in the afternoon, and we’re taking Mack to train her up to go to the Real Theatre. Moana tomorrow. Let’s see if she can sit still for the whole thing.
  • It’s starting to be too dark at 5:30am for me to safely walk our neighborhood. This makes me sad because a) I need to exercise, and b) it reminds me that winter is coming. Argh. I might have to find some room in the budget to get back to the gym.

That’s it for me this month! Now it’s your turn.

Jump in the comments to tell me how YOUR July went and what you’ve got planned for August.