God Doesn’t Exist in a Niche: Neither Should You

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Finding your niche. Define your niche. Know your niche.

Niche.

Niche is hands down the official buzzword of the blogosphere. What’s it mean? Essentially, the number one piece of blogging advice given at conferences, classes, and all over Pinterest boils down to this: find a specifically defined and branded area of the internet where you can establish yourself as an expert, and then stay in your lane. If you blog about recipes? Don’t post about home decor. If you’re a graphic designer? Don’t talk about your parenting. Pick an area of expertise, and then streamline your posts to stay within your sphere so that you have a clearly defined audience and an established brand.

So what’s my niche here at The Joy Parade?

I don’t have one.
photo-1461773518188-b3e86f98242fWhen I started this blog, I hired an amazing designer who specialized in branding. I created a Pinterest board while working with her to brainstorm what I wanted my branding to communicate. Sure, some of that work is about color palettes and graphics and such, but much of it is defining how you want to make people feel. It’s imagining what your readers will experience when they go to your website, scroll through your Instagram, or otherwise engage with your brand online.

If you’ve ever clicked on the Meet Stephanie page, you may have seen this verse: “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” The verse serves as a manifesto of sorts for my purpose behind the Joy Parade. It’s a place where I get to share myself with my readers in an authentic way, letting each and every one of you into my story to see what God is teaching me and how He’s showing Himself to our little family. It’s an extension of who I am – spilled out to take form in these words and images, and sent lovingly outward to travel the web and onto the screens of whoever God would have them for.

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People of the Internet, You’ve Been Had

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People of Internet,

You’ve been had.

In the past couple years we’ve borne witness to an interesting set of trends. Various hashtags started gaining popularity that claimed to be celebrating the #authenticlife, but they were unusually ripe with photos of farm to table feasts on custom built farmhouse tables, cleverly staged journals with pristine latte art, and gorgeous minimalist home decor without a trace of evidence that real live people actually inhabited these homes. We saw an Instagram “celebrity” go viral for posting an extremely public breakup video to the very app that gave her a platform, only to start rapidly growing a following on her very well marketed (and highly monetized) site promoting her newfound position as a leading voice for being “real” online. Conferences and retreats have popped up left and right with speakers who market themselves brilliantly as experts and success stories of their supposed fields and vocations, but if you peek behind the curtain you discover the only job they actually hold is that very self marketing, speaking, and teaching. It’s a bit like when we find Dorothy pulling back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard of Oz is in fact a tiny little man pulling levers and dials, and its all been a cleverly designed trick all along.

There is no Wizard folks.

photo-1449535423830-de3f6546aabdThe internet doesn’t actually care about authenticity. Social media isn’t actually growing more appreciative of the vulnerable and exposed. Many of the biggest names who claim to have a way to sell you a path to success don’t actually have success in anything other than selling success.

Yeah… kind of Debbie Downer today, right?

But hear me out fellow citizens of this crazy online world. I am NOT advocating for cynicism or apathy. I’m in no way hoping to simply burst the bubble only to sit back and watch the damage. This isn’t just a case of “misery loves company.” Rather, I’m hoping we can all find a little Dorothy in ourselves right now and be brave enough to pull back that curtain, call out a clever con for exactly what it is, and put the illusion to bed in order to make way for something better to rise in its place.

The good news is this: the underlying reason for this trend’s success is that so many people ARE in fact craving a more authentic experience online. The bad news however is that its going to be much scarier to achieve than we hoped or expected. We like when we are seen as brave and vulnerable, but we’re not nearly as in love with the reality of living that out. It’s messy. It’s embarrassing. It’s anything but glamorous. It’s counter cultural in every way. And yet the only way we can hope to see a more authentic form of community online is to be willing to come to the table first, knowing full well we might be out there alone and exposed. It’s risky, but all the best things certainly are.

photo-1447914178647-198e7e4a70b5Can you imagine if we all stood up and saw the false hashtag #authenticity for what it really is and demanded something better? What if we stopped celebrating pseudo-vulnerability and held ourselves to a higher standard of bravery? What if we didn’t just share the carefully curated highlight reel that fit the persona we worked so diligently to cultivate, but opened our personal closets and admitted we aren’t any more on top of things than anyone else? What if instead of self promotion and viral marketing, we just put our work out there and let it speak for itself? What if we actually created the #authenticlife we claim we so desperately crave?

And therein lies the bigger challenge. It’s easy to criticize what we’re against, it’s a lot more difficult to actually do something about it. I could get up on stage after stage speaking against false authenticity and write blog after blog calling out the online culture of deception, but what can we actually DO about it? It’s not good enough to know where we don’t want to go if we still don’t have a plan for where we should – it only leaves us stalled and stagnant.

Claim your personal stake as part of the solution:

Calling out pseudo-authenticity doesn’t solve nearly as much as stepping up to the plate with the real thing. The only social media accounts you have any certainty of affecting for change are your own. Make a commitment to take personal responsibility for your online citizenry and focus on your own domain. Lead by example.

Don’t misinterpret inappropriate sharing as authenticity:

No, you don’t need to post all your dirty laundry on facebook in the name of being more authentic. There are most definitely situations that call for privacy, especially in the name of respect. No one enjoys seeing martial spats played out over social media, and disputes with friends are always better handled face to face rather than publicly on facebook. Most importantly: authentic sharing is NEVER sharing information that isn’t about you or isn’t yours to share. Gossip isn’t a tool to better community, it only encourages people to hide their vulnerabilities even more, lest they become ammunition in the wrong hands later

Take regular stock of your social media “big picture,” and compare to the real story:

There’s a difference between not airing your dirty laundry and presenting the false idea that you don’t have any laundry to begin with. It can be a tightrope walk for sure, but it CAN be done. Look over your social media account regularly and ask yourself if the story you present overall is an accurate representation of the real life person behind the screen. If you aren’t sure, find a close friend you trust and ask them to weigh in. Ask yourself: if someone who had only known you online were to come spend a week in your home, do you think they would be at all surprised at the person they would see? If your answer is yes, ask yourself which parts of yourself would be most surprising, and how your might more accurately represent them moving forward.

Real authenticity is almost always scary to some degree:

If you have never experienced that nagging instinct to self preservation, or had to will yourself to press post on some less than flattering aspect of yourself, its a good idea to examine just how authentic you’re willing to be. Yes, there are those rare folks among us who maintain such an incredibly healthy self esteem that no amount of unflattering photos or admitting of their flaws holds any sort of fear. These are the exception though, and not the norm. For most of us, the idea of sharing our mistakes with the world gives us more than a little bit of pause. For many its outright terrifying. If you’ve never had to urge to hit delete or felt the weight of just how vulnerable it is to feel exposed? Challenge yourself to share something uncomfortable and see how folks respond.

Resist the urge to adhere to a label or niche:

One of the most insidious ways we start to take on false personas is by allowing ourselves to step into a comfortable label online. Nobody is just a DIYer, just a Christian, just an attachment parent, just a #girlboss… the list could go on and on. When we take on a label its often too easy to take it on as a role to be played, with proper costumes and guidelines for who the character should and shouldn’t be. Theres a reason that you’ll see so many similarities between bloggers who blog in similar niches – it can be all to tempting to let those labels define us and start to filter our other choices through those roles. Authentic people are much harder to fit into a box. You might be a blogger who doesn’t like coffee, a hippy mom who also enjoys rap music, or a fantastic designer who’s living room usually looks more like an abandoned daycare than a plug for HGTV. Real people are more than one thing, and we wont all look the same.

The Best Question to ask before EVERY post:

“Are you sharing this to build better community or to build up yourself?” Real authenticity is always about building connections, not building a platform. Authenticity is never about gaining the high ground, but about leveling the playing field. Authenticity is never about being liked, but about being known. Authenticity cant be planned, staged, coached, or branded. It has no cares of what will be retweeted, repined, reposted, or double tapped. It is because it IS. It’s truthful, it’s real, and it’s without agenda. Anything less simply misses the mark.

We can do this, people of the internet, I know we can. It’s not too late! With bravery and intention we can still right this ship.

The only question that remains is whether we really want to.

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Take Charge of the Internet Once and For All

Im so excited to finally be allowed to share this with you all that I just might burst. Its been the hardest secret I have EVER been asked to keep. When the incredible folks at Circle approached me to tell me about what they had created, the potential was obvious and my expectations were pretty high. Yet when I actually got my device and set it up? Expectations were so far surpassed you guys.

I am so incredibly honored to get to tell you guys about the one device I firmly believe EVERYONE who uses the internet should have in their home.

 

 

Now that you’ve seen a little taste of what Circle can do, let me tell you a bit about why I’m so head over heels in love with this tiny little device.

MULTIPLE USERS ACROSS ALL DEVICES: Circle is unlike any internet management tool I’ve seen, because rather than installing an app or program on a single device, Circle sets up an easy to use system for our entire home. Every single device that interacts with our home wifi connection is identified by our Circle, and each member of our family has a unique user profile that has its own customized settings.

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE: Although the most obvious applications for Circle appear to be in the area of parental controls, don’t let that fool you! This device has something for EVERYONE. Whether you’re single, married, childless, or parenting a variety of ages, Circle provides a variety of tools for more intentional use of internet enabled devices. It can shed light on online habits that may have gone unnoticed, it can promote a new sense of intimacy in a marriage invaded by screens, it can even foster conversations with loved ones about how we use the internet and where it can take us in the future. Circle ultimately gives you what you make of it, no matter where you are in life.

TIME LIMITS: You can use Circle to easily set daily time limits for a family member on any app or category you want. You can also customize how much time your kids spend on each platform and even set a total online time for the day. The time limits are easy to adjust, and when a limit is reached that user and I both receive a notification, so I’m always in the loop and in the know. This sets up a great opportunity for my family to communicate regularly about our habits online so we know where to tweak and adjust these limits as we go.

FILTER CONTENT:  Circle has 4 preset age levels (Pre-K; Kid; Teen; Adult,) but it allows for further customization by platform, app, and category. I love that I can fine tune exactly what each member of my family sees online.

PAUSE THE INTERNET:  You read that right – the internet now comes with a pause button. With the push of a button I’m able to pause the internet on the fly, whether its family dinner time, date night with the hubby, or simply time to unplug and get to work around the house. The internet doesn’t have the power in my family anymore – I do!

SET BEDTIME:  With Circle, both our kids and their devices share the same bedtimes. I don’t have to collect devices from my kiddos or hide them every evening to ensure a good nights sleep. Their devices now disconnect automatically each evening and reconnect at a set time each day.

BLOCK ADS: Circle can block ads for any user or device. Ad Blocking was of huge importance to me for my impressionable kiddos, so this is a major plus.

STINKER PROOF: I have a genius and a stinker in my house, so I was concerned that either (or both) of them would find a way to circumvent the device. Luckily the folks at Circle are one step ahead of my little brood of schemers. Circle remains active even when unplugged and has no off button; the only way to adjust or change Circle’s filtering and time management settings is through the iOS app, which is password protected and can only be downloaded on a single smartphone.

DISCOVER INSIGHTS:  This is easily the MOST important feature of Circle. Circle tracks and displays an amazing panel of insights that show me things like the total time each user spends online, where they spend it, and the top 5 sites each user visits most. I can see when my kids get filtered and exactly what they were attempting to access when it happened. I can track my own personal web habits and make sure I’m practicing what I preach and setting healthy examples for my family. Most importantly, the insights panel provides a jumping off point for important conversations within our family about how we use the internet and what we choose to do with our devices.

B8-7ZDNY6gNffocV2ESrxRrDRPVIBg8VjJLkGGFY3aYRISK-PROOF INDEPENDENCE: Thanks to Circle, I have been able to grant a new level of independence to my children in regards to electronic devices. This tiny little unit has been the key that unlocked my ultimate dream: children who are learning to manage their own online behaviors and screen time habits without requiring my constant interference or supervision. Tablets, computers, streaming devices… none of them hold any fear for me any longer as a parent. They have simply become tools to grant my kids access to learn about the world, gain valuable skills in the technology age, further their education from home, and communicate with friends and relatives who aren’t close by. My children are thrilled to experience their new found independence, and I’m thrilled to foster their sense of personal responsibility for their own habits online. It’s a parenting win-win.

ONE-TIME COST WITHOUT A SUBSCRIPTION: Unlike many of the alternatives who market internet management or parental controls, circle is a one time cost and not a subscription based service. And considering all Circle does? It’s really affordable! Circle is available for purchase for just $99.

Have your attention? I hope so! You can get more information about what the device can do, see answers to all sorts of questions, and even order your own Circle at www.meetcircle.com. It’s time to harness the power of the internet for good and live intentionally in a whole new way.

LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW TELLING ME WHAT MOST EXCITES YOU ABOUT CIRCLE, OR ASKING A QUESTION ABOUT THE DEVICE, AND YOU’LL BE ENTERED TO WIN A JOY PACKAGE OF SOME OF MY FAVORITE TREATS AND GOODIES!

Winner will be selected by random.org on Wednesday, November 18th.

When Your Worst Day Goes Viral

Click to Read the Post That Sparked It All

Click to Read the Post That Sparked It All

Friday, February 27th was one of my worst days. We were already walking one of the hardest seasons of our life, but we had been doing our best to keep our heads up and choose joy regardless. It was then that a trip to the grocery store turned into one of the most difficult experiences of my life so far, and threatened to shake not only myself by my 5 year old son to the core. Shaken and reeling, I took to the one place I could openly speak my mind in a way I simply couldn’t when the incident occurred – my blog, my little corner of internet real estate where I could openly share anything and feel like I had a tiny platform to be heard, maybe even understood. So a sat down for 30 minutes, watching my boys playing out the window behind my screen, and put my feelings into words. It was off the cuff and right from the heart, words going directly from my brain to the page, and I simply pressed “post” and returned to my day, feeling a little relief at letting my go of that burden of words unspoken. Little could I have predicted what would happen next.

#youremyheroaidanIn the next 48 hours the post went absolutely viral. In fact, 90% of the TOTAL page hits to my blog in its first month? All of them came from this one post. But it didn’t stop there. A reporter from our state newspaper spoke to me over the phone and penned an article about our experience. Other blogs and websites that run guest content offered to run the piece for us on their own pages. I started “Project Aidan” and the responses only grew. People posted comments, sent private emails, and posted to the #youremyheroaidan hashtag on various social media outlets. Kids mailed us drawings for Aidan’s. People sent letters. A microscope company contacted us to applaud Aidan’s unique love of science and sent us a gift pack to cheer him up. A middle school in another state spent class time making cards and a video to tell Aidan how special he was. Aidan even had a Skype date recently with a producer from the Ellen show about possibly appearing on the program, and now Aidan will be featured on The World Needs More Love Letters where he will receive even more outpourings of love, encouragement, and acceptance. I’ve made connections in the Autism and Hyperlexia communities I never could have dreamed of. I’ve received countless emails from parents saying they cried tears of their own because they’ve been in our shoes, and the post gave them the words they couldn’t find on their own. The response continues to grow and messages keep coming in.

Aidan is still working through a lot in response to the issue. In fact I just this past Monday afternoon had a meeting with his support team at our school, and its clear he’s still grappling with so many issues related to self esteem and how he perceives himself. For Aidan, its difficult to see the difference between different from other kids, and being somehow lesser than other kids. It’s something we work every day to try to address, and Lord knows this situation made it exponentially harder right now. But Aidan is an incredible kid, with so much strength and resilience underneath it all, and every time he reads a message telling him how incredible he is or gets a card in the mail to tape up in his reading fort? I can SEE the response. It’s very real and its incredibly apparent. Every message of acceptance helps outweigh the messages that convince him he’s not good enough, and every note of encouragement helps show him that not everyone shares the opinions he was burdened with that horrible day.

disagreeThe reality of a post going viral though, is not every response will be positive. There have been emails and comments that for a brief moment make me question it all – mothers of other children on the spectrum chastising me for what they view as exploitation by sharing our story publicly, people telling me I’m oversensitive and should have simply ignored it and moved on, people lamenting bloggers in general and how ridiculous they perceive the entire idea of sharing life online, even people who said the incident seemed too exaggerated to be true and suggested I made the whole thing up for our 15 minutes of internet fame. Any time you have a post that gets as much exposure as this one has, you’re bound to find voices that aren’t encouraging or supportive. It’s been an important set of lessons for me to learn as a new blogger: when and how to let those comments slide, to always ask where I get my value from and who I allow to define me, and how to keep the opinions of other keep me from changing my online voice and the message I use this platform to share. Ultimately I had to decide that if you’ve never experienced people disagreeing with something you’ve written, you might not being saying a whole lot. Criticism comes with the territory, and it’s just a speedbump, not a roadblock.

Im excited to see where this journey leads as this story continues to unfold, but for now I encouraged that God has me exactly where he meant me to be: writing, sharing our stories, and living our life as an open book to be used in ministry to others – nothing to hide, nothing to fear. I appreciate each and every message to the #youremyheroaidan hashtag, every card or drawing or gift we receive, but mostly I appreciate knowing we aren’t alone, and that there are still so many good people in this world ready to encourage the brokenhearted and speak love where its most desperately needed. Day by day its helping us erase the memory of what happened that day, and we’re confident God is using even our worst day for good. And ultimately, thats what it’s all really about.

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3 Baby Steps for Starting a Blog

Thinking of starting a blog? It can be overwhelming to know where to begin! With so much advice out there on what a blog should be, how it should look, whether or not to monetize, WHEN to monetize… well it can be easy to feel defeated before you even start. And so much of the information out there is either super specific to a certain niche or business model, or it’s exceptionally vague and doesn’t give you the tools to really apply the ideas. I’m a big believer that the best way to reach goals it to break the big picture down into attainable baby steps, and look for benchmarks that have progress that’s quantifiable and can be tracked as you go. So today Im giving you my 3 baby steps for starting a new blog.

Baby Step #1 – Your blog begins and ends with it’s name.

stephanietaitwritingThe single most important choice you will make when launching your blog is also the very first – the name. Don’t rush this essential step! It will define every aspect of your brand moving forward. Grab a cup of coffee, a notepad and pen, and sit down in a place that makes you feel inspired, because it’s time to brainstorm. Ask yourself the key questions: What do I want to blog about? Who do I want my readers to be? What am I hoping to say with this blog? As you work through these questions, write down any and all keywords that come into your head. These don’t need to be names or taglines right now, just any word or theme you find yourself drawn to as you work through the broad strokes of what your concept is really about. Once you’ve completed this list, tear it off the pad and set it next to a fresh blank sheet. Work through the words you’ve written and try to create thoughtful name ideas that incorporate these themes. Don’t censor yourself – any idea, no matter how ridiculous, is valid at this stage. You never know what later concepts they may end up birthing. When you feel yourself closing in on a central idea, begin to narrow it down to your top three. When selecting ideas to be in this final trio, now’s a good time to start googling your ideas to see if any other recognizable brands are using your name already. It’s never fun to get all set to launch your brand, only to discover all of the relevant domain names and social media handles have long since been taken. So make sure each itm that makes your top three has been checked for these sorts of issues already. Once you have your top three, your first brainstorming session is done. Don’t choose your winner at this point! Its a good idea to play with all three for at least a few days. Talk to friends and family about them. Run them by people who read blogs in your niche. See what gets traction until a clear winner surfaces. Then pat yourself on the back – because you’ve just completed the most important step!

Baby Step #2 – Own your social real estate.

handyicons-colour-sketch-social-media-icons.jpegOnce you’ve chosen your name, the next step is crucial. No matter what your current plans for your blog, don’t take another step until you grab up not only the domain name for your blog, but also ALL the relevant social media handles. The most common mistake I see too many bloggers making is to wait until they’ve “made it” before taking this next step, and in too many cases that’s simply too late and the real estate is already occupied by someone else by then. Even if your current plan is to stay small, don’t give up your options before you’ve even launched your site. You simply never know where this blog may lead, and it’s important to own all the social media real estate you may need to keep your brand cohesive down the line. You don’t even have to use them yet, but make sure you plant your flag before they get snatched up from under you. The most important places to grab up a plot for your blog?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • yourblogname@gmail.com
  • (Google+ – It’s better safe than sorry to grab this up, but I personally don’t use the platform)

Baby Step #3 – Define your brand visually

branding inspirationNow that you’ve taken care of some of the early logistics, its back to that brainstorming phase. Before a word  is typed or photo is posted, your blog needs a beautiful design. The number one factor readers and advertisers take into account before they even consider your content? How your blog looks when they get there. The visual identity of your brand is the main way people determine what your brand is really about, and more importantly how it makes them feel. The best way to tackle this step is to create a Pinterest board. Remember collaging all sorts of cut out magazine pictures and fabric swatches on bulletin boards for inspiration? This is sort of like that, but updated for the digital age. You can even keep this board secret if you’re not ready to share your plans, but keeping it public can also help increase excitement for your brand and get potential readers invested in the behind the scenes process before launch day. Consider if you have a color palette in mind. Pull together images that give you the emotional feeling you want your brand to portray. Decide if you’re looking for sassy or sophisticated, muted or bold. This is where your dreams really start to come into view, so really put some time into your board. If you are hoping to blog for profit, it’s absolutely paramount to invest in a designer. A designer can come at many different price points and levels of investment, but its the single most important investment you can make into establishing a blog that will be taken seriously by readers and advertisers alike. (And if you’re in the market for a designer, can I take two seconds to say that working with Whitney of Heart & Arrow to create my brand was a dream. Cant recommend her enough.) Your branding board will be the jumping off point when you are ready to hire a designer, so make sure you’re pulling together a clear and consistent feel of how you see your design taking shape. To see the branding board I created for The Joy Parade, just look here.

So those are my three baby steps to get you started down the road to launching your very own blog. Whether you’re looking to blog for profit, as a hobby, or somewhere in between, these three important steps will help set you up for success wherever your blog ends up taking you. Stay tuned for regular features giving my insights in tips into launching and maintaining a successful blog. Feel free to tell me in the comments below what blog related topics YOU’D like to see me tackle!

More Than A Buzzword

If you’re fairly present on social media like I am, you may have noticed some really positive words are trending lately. Words like authentic, and intentional, and vulnerable – they’ve all been reaching their veritable status buzzwords and are now being hashtagged at a fever pitch. It seems fairly evident that people are growing increasingly weary of the constant facade and are tired of being bombarded with picture perfect highlight reels of seemingly perfect lives on social media. So we carve these words into the covers of our journals or buy beautiful hand lettered prints on Etsy, determined to apply their virtues as we embrace the new year.

And for many, thats where it stops.

Because reality is that these are incredibly demanding words. They fly in the face of all that we value as a modern society and demand that we live in a radically countercultural way to everyone and everything around us. And for most of us, thats just simply not what we signed up for.

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I mean sure, we like the IDEA of “intentional,” and we want people to SEE us “authentic,” but are we really ready to sign up for turning our entire existence upside down to dedicate ourselves to words that so wholly refute most everything we have built our lives on?

And so countless women across Instagram throw their hair into a strategically messy ponytail, put on their makeup but skip those last steps of eyeliner and gloss, and take 3-4 outtakes before finding the perfect selfie to hashtag #therealme

Moms all over Facebook straighten up their living rooms, leaving a few toys scattered just so, and post a half-truth update about needing to be #authentic about the way their house isn’t actually perfect.

Ugly, gross, embarrassing truth time? I’ve DONE this. For my own personal confession, I present to you Exhibit A in the case against me for my own pseudo-authenticity. Last year I posted this photo to Instagram:

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I captioned it, “Authenticity Moment” and went on to talk about how important it was to show our real lives on social media and not be afraid to show our messes. And sure, there are a few dishes in the sink here, and the paper towel roll needs refilling, but seriously? You want to see a REAL authenticity moment? THIS is what my sink actually looks like sometimes:

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Y’all. I CANT EVEN. Feel free to call me out for that one, because I *know* I deserve it.

We are selling ourselves short if we really think this is the best we can do. Authenticity is so much more than a buzzword. Being Intentional? Its hard work: taking every thought captive, and making every choice with a real thought to our values and goals. And being vulnerable? Its probably the most intense of them all – baring our flaws in all their glory so that HIS glory can shine through. Its easier said than done, but it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do them either.

Pseudo-authenticity isn’t helping anyone. Can we all just agree to stop cleaning up our houses for company and then saying “oh sorry for the mess” when they walk in? Can we actively try to look at our social media and consciously reflect our lives in their most authentic state? Can we stop simply lettering these words across our coffee mugs and surrender ourselves to them in a real and radical way? Or maybe for some of us its a simple as promising not to keep offhandedly hash tagging these life altering words until we’re wholly ready to see our lives transformed into something unrecognizable.

I can promise you this, if you dedicate yourself to discovering the height and the depth of words like these: it may not mean suddenly uprooting and moving to another state, or jumping into a new career, or putting your life online for the world to see – that happens to be my story, and yours may look nothing like it – but it WILL be utterly transformative. Life as you know it will change in every facet of your existence, and nothing will ever be the same.

Project Aidan

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I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received both yesterday when posting the account to social media and in the short time since this blog post has gone live. The outpouring has been so beautifully encouraging and gives me hope that the angry voice of the minority is just that – the minority, and not at all how most people perceive my sweet boy.

That being said, Aidan is still working through the incident in his sweet little heart, and it’s hard for any parent to watch their child see so much less of themself than they really are. But in this case its honestly more than I can stand.

So I’m launching Project Aidan.

Because Aidan is able to read so fluently, and because he enjoys checking up on social media, I’ve decided to launch a campaign to show him just how loved and accepted he really is, and try to reverse some of the damage caused by the grocery store encounter. The premise is simple: post something to instagram, facebook, or even twitter with the hashtag #youremyheroaidan for Aidan to see. Tell him he’s special, tell him he’s awesome, tell him he’s loved – just tell him a little something to make him smile. I will continue to share with him your comments,posts, and shares and hopefully we can show this little guy just how wrong that man in the grocery store really was about him.

Lets send this kid an avalanche of love to outweigh the negativity and give him the boost of a lifetime. That man may be a veteran, but Aidan is the real hero in that story.

Crafting Your Legacy Online

Navigating the social media age certainly added a whole new dimension to the way we receive and perceive social stigmas.

Don’t have a Facebook page? You live in the stone age.
You do have a Facebook page? Instagram is now where it’s at, Facebook is passé.
Post a selfie? You have a vanity complex.
Never post any photos of yourself? You need help with your self esteem.

And then of course there is the unwritten commandment leveled at all parents with an internet connection: don’t don’t don’t post too much about your children.

From the thinly veiled flogging of the iPhone mom to overtly calling out such supposed taboos as adopting a photo of your kids as your personal profile picture, the message is clear: your online habits are now the new frontier for outsiders judging your parenting. And thanks to the marvelous connectivity of the internet, strangers with no tangible connection to your family or home life now have the unique ability to reach out and render their critiques with lightning fast speed and virtual anonymity.  It’s reminiscent of those classic women’s magazine spreads where unknowing pedestrians found themselves featured on the glossy pages with a black bar of shame plastered over their faces and the enormous “DONT” label calling out their crimes.

I’ve often found myself on the receiving end of some of the haplessly lobbed verbal grenades.
“I’ll bet your kids are so sick of having their pictures taken, right?”
“Put the camera down or you’ll miss their whole childhood!”
“How do you find so much time to post online? Aren’t you supposed to be watching your kids?”
“People who post so many updates about their kids online are just embarrassed they don’t have their own life or their own identity outside their kids anymore.”
“Posting a ton on social media is just pure narcism.”
Some are unintentionally pointed or mistakenly worded in haste, others are overt criticisms or outright mean spirited, but all of them hurt, and all of them have had the potential to alter my internet presence and change the way I express myself online.

Maybe it’s because I’m nearing my 30’s, or maybe it’s just God working a new growth in my character, but I’m learning to make a new peace with the naysayers and givers of unsolicited advice. I’m cultivating an understanding that every phrase and image I post online accumulates into my personal autobiography, and I would never allow anyone else to write that story for me. Every time I edit my online voice to serve the critiques of another, I essentially drop my folio into their lap and ask them to take their red pen to my life’s work. I would never surrender the power over to someone else to choose my next haircut or restyle my wardrobe, so why would I allow them to craft my online persona?

The internet is a powerful medium, and with every post we shape our legacy – images and strings of characters coming together to craft a story of us.

Photos of morning cheerios and gap toothed smiles.

Stories of potty training snafus and the little victories in the everyday.

Journals of travels and new experiences.

Testimonies of Gods provision in the unexpected.

Quotes from when the kids really did say the darndest things.

Status Updates chronicling the first date, the first home, the first steps.

If you post what you love and share the things that are meaningful, there simply isn’t any way to be wrong. Don’t give an editors pen to anyone you wouldn’t trust with your life’s work. So go ahead and share another story about that hilarious thing your preschooler just said, and don’t be ashamed to post the umpteenth photo of your baby’s newly tooth endowed grin. Its your story, and only you get to decide whats in it.