By Angie Fenton
IN MARCH 2017, I received an invitation from New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan to speak at the 49th annual Mayor’s Community Prayer Breakfast in November. Humbled and honored, I gladly accepted the opportunity to be a part of this special tradition that has a mission of uniting “citizens of all ages and faiths to celebrate the diversity within God’s family and to give thanks for the blessings of our community and its people.”
But in the weeks leading up to the breakfast, I began to feel an anxiety-filled fog slowly start to descend. How was I going to deliver a message for a breakfast with the theme “hope and gratitude” in a world increasingly filled with chaos and turmoil? What would my words matter?
Turning on the TV or talk radio had become an exercise in futility. The lead stories were almost always about heart-breaking violence, terrorism, natural disasters, war, political discord, divisiveness and the most awful aspects of humanity.
Logging onto social media had become disheartening. Instead of serving as a tool to connect with others, newsfeeds had been overtaken by angry political posts and rants, mostly – so it seemed – by people more eager to air their grievances than do something about them and help others.
Despite my usually-positive outlook even amid tough times, everywhere I looked, I only saw messages of hopelessness, and I let them get to me. What kind of world had I brought my daughter into, I worried. Life was becoming overwhelming and bleak as I waited for the next tragedy. The all-consuming negativity pervaded my thoughts and started to affect how I treated others and myself. And I saw others who felt the same.
When I had the opportunity to take part in a weekend girls trip to French Lick with several women from Neace Ventures, Extol Magazine’s former* parent company, I almost canceled and came up with a mental list of excuses. Thankfully, I also realized a few days away from my family – which is one of my usually-constant sources of happiness – could also mean stepping away from other things, too. So, I went with a mission in mind.
For three days and two nights, I refrained from logging onto social media, watching or reading the news, checking email or using my cell phone (except for a daily text or brief call to check on my daughter, husband and our furry ones). I enjoyed socializing with the wonderful women on the trip while also going through a “negativity detox.”
Instead of checking my Twitter or Facebook feeds or turning on the news upon waking, I walked the gorgeous grounds of West Baden and watched the sunrise, thankful for the beauty and simplicity. I made new friends and caught up with old ones. Other than a delicious meal at 1875: The Steakhouse, I only consumed healthy food and beverages (my a.m. coffee aside). I slept soundly at night and arose early each morning to workout, spend time meditating and in prayer on the veranda and wander without a destination or deadline.
Emerging from the weekend – and that’s really what it felt like, emerging – I once again was able to embrace what I’ve always believed but had allowed myself to forget: There is far more good – and there are far more good people – in the world than what we so often see.
We are living in trying times, but they are not hopeless times.
And that’s the message I shared at the community breakfast. We are living in trying times, but they are not hopeless times. It is important to be informed, but it’s also imperative to acknowledge the tremendous good and positivity occurring – because it is. Sometimes, you have to search for it, but it’s there and in abundance, on the news, via social media and, especially, in our communities and neighborhood. There also is much to be grateful for and many opportunities to help others feel like they matter.
Taking care of ourselves, too, should be valued, and I’m not just talking about eating right and making time to exercise and get sleep.
Like many of you, I have too many obligations and not enough time or financial resources to regularly check out for a weekend. But, I have begun waking up before anyone else to focus on what and who makes me happy, what I’m grateful for and what I can do to help someone else that day. Those brief moments are mine, and I cherish them. I still turn on the news – I need to know what’s going on in the world, near and far – but I turn it off when I start to feel anxious or overwhelmed and replace it with silence or one of my many Spotify playlists.
I’m involved in several charitable and community endeavors I’m passionate about, but I can’t possibly be involved in everything. Sometimes, saying “no” is necessary, and I have made a commitment to doing everything I can to prevent myself from feeling guilty when I do say “no,” and I won’t let others shame me into attending an event or taking up a cause.
After the trip, I also vowed to make it a point to get together with friends and family regularly, even if I have what feels like a million things on my to-do list. Those times – those people – are precious.
Nothing is perfect, but I am taking these lessons to heart. The many people and organizations featured in this issue also embody that spirit. As we head into 2018, may you find ways to remain hopeful, grateful and make others feel like they matter, yourself included.
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