Virtually Useless

When the world sort of ground to a stuttered, bewildered stop; when plans were canceled one by one, many scrambled to translate formerly physical events into online experiences.  Online school, church services, counseling, book clubs, science camps, church camps, even our kids’ school field day activities were exclamation-pointed and hyped and promoted enthusiastically; maybe over-enthusiastically, begging to be an exciting alternative in the year of the plague.  It was an extended reach for normalcy, to not lose too much.

75394793_10158937019263352_4697287872719271344_oBut I, odd bird, dove in to the quiet, the natural flow of time un-chopped.  Between cooking for my large brood of children who were ever-present and ever-hungry, I delved into mask making and new handicrafts.  I studied Norwegian, took long walks on local trails, picked berries, played board games, and had good chats with my chickens, parakeet, rabbits, and bees.  I learned to carve spoons, weave rugs, make apple cider vinegar, and currant jam.  I realize, of course, that my experience is a privileged one; not everyone has the opportunity to stay home, nor to enjoy nature at leisure, nor to have a spouse that is supportive and takes over childcare so I can care for my introverted self.  I speak only from my experience, that is all.107813278_10158983117753352_9066970786895427250_n116009563_10159024014663352_876588903092333129_n115821103_10159024520013352_6824405005164446328_o104175277_10158910998598352_7990901495297894568_o115838314_10159017029438352_1263168622830738558_n105289766_10158901948193352_5396233565335013744_oSome felt that the world had gone mad, but for me it felt as though the world was exorcised of the soul-crushing Demons of Hurry, of Hyper-Schedule, of Busy.  Even if it was a forced hard stop, it felt like an opportunity for reflection, meditation, and appreciation of all that we normally speed past.  I barely breathe in our harried culture; I was finally breathing deep.

But for others the lockdown was like prison; deprivation, loss, stress, and some anger.  Okay, a lot of anger.  We experienced some of that, especially navigating online schooling with spotty internet, borrowed devices, and missed Zoom meetings, not to mention the mess of papers, books, cords, uncapped markers, and so on.  That was unpleasant indeed, and I feel no need to spin it otherwise.  No exclamation points necessary.

Once school was finished I felt free; gone were the screens, the frustration, the cords which tripped me.  In my email inbox came the invitations to Virtual This and Virtual That, and I knew beyond a doubt that for me, they were Virtually Futile.  In order to experience in the smallest way an online event required a massive coordination of efforts.  We live in a small, old, three bedroom home, all eight of us, and there is always someone yelling, laughing, screaming, or needing something.  We have a separate studio space that would seem ideal for such, but our wifi doesn’t stretch that far, so our one device (an eight year old laptop with a cracked screen), cannot be of use there.  I tried using my husband’s phone (I do not have one), but it had other issues and I’ve yet to make a Zoom meeting function without panic and sweat.

In order for me to participate in anything I need to be physically there.  My home is too loud and too little equipped with technology, and also…

I need to be where my body is. 105612122_10158923356963352_6139099048337089654_o106903425_10158958428083352_9181716869868902619_n107589414_10158983117828352_7730809835030596938_n109345405_10159005296478352_6912392869239024676_n110046319_10159013716168352_1212632757072360117_o114890932_10159023108563352_1017798727818814836_n115811952_10159023108333352_2971481073923495345_nIn this I do not argue for a return to normal; heaven forbid while the plague still rages!  But I do suggest that we live with loss as gracefully as we can.  That we give thanks for all we can do rather than manufacture virtual substitutes thereof.  That is just my opinion; I give you plenty of room to appreciate online offerings to your heart’s content, but maybe too, leaning into the loss and seeing what gifts it offers when it takes.

 

Untimely: Reflections on Hurry and Health

Untimely:  Reflections on Hurry and Health

Untimely:  coming, said, done, etc. before the usual or proper time; premature, unseasonable  (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language)

It is a perfect storm of reading:

There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather:  A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda McGurk

The Hurried Child by psychologist David Elkind

Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing by Dr. Jeffrey Rediger
At first glance, perhaps the first two would seem related, but the third not so much.  Yet all three have a common concern:  stress.  Hurry.  Busyness.  They delve into how chronic haste and stress can manifest in development,  mental health, and our physical bodies.
McGurk observed the changes brought over her American children when they spent several months in her native Sweden, spending most of their waking hours exploring the woods with friends.  They went from iPads to mud pies with alacrity, and she writes convincingly of the importance for all of us in being outside, not commuting from activity to activity, hurried.
Elkind was ahead of his time in addressing the pressure parents are putting on kids to excel, overloading them with extracurriculars, eroding free time.  He was dismissed when the book first published in 1981.  With the rise of teen suicides and depression, his book is now finding a receptive audience.
Dr. Rediger explores the factors surrounding spontaneous healing of various incurable, fatal diseases.  Many of those who made miraculous recoveries drastically reduced the busyness and stress from their lives, along with eating whole foods and exercising.
I’ve written before on the subject of busyness here and here, but I often feel like I’m speaking to a wall.  Our culture is suffused with this idea that movement=progress=success, so everyone is chugging along at breakneck speed so that they, and their children, don’t “fall behind”.  I feel like a mother walking her children through a meadow; we examine the flowers, the bugs, we feel the wind on our faces, and watch the slow drift of the clouds.  Past us flies a high speed train full of families, baseball bats and ballet slippers, sheets of homework, and bags of fast food are barely visible as they fly past to the town we’re slowly walking to.  They do get to the town first, but it seems like they don’t even walk the town, they run through it, hit the shops, and hop back on the train to the next place.  I am stubbornly insisting that racing through life doesn’t win you anything.  It may in fact cost you everything.
56396022_10157545627993352_5875322391126605824_o55819024_10157527981533352_787634639161262080_o51540122_10157396442668352_632964388566859776_oimg_4921img_0767 So my equation is slowness=presence=living fully.  I do not think this will secure for me any guarantee of perfect health, nor worldly success, nor that my children be superior to anyone else’s, only that I will be present within my life, within this time; that I will live in wonder and enjoyment, that peace will not be illusive, that my children will see this way of living which relies not on breathless hurry, but stillness, joy, and open time.

 

It’s Just The Astonishing Appetizer

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This place, these cabins in Chile along Lake Llanquihue, it has the most magical light.  We would descend upon this place all tired and ministry-worn, we’d come to be renewed and refreshed.  It did not disappoint.  There’s a wood fire-heated swimming pool.  There’s plantings of all sorts of native flowers and trees.  There’s blackberries growing wild, and wind-whipped waves thrashing across the lake.

We cooked in the tidy little kitchens, everything seeming homier and cozier with all that wicked wind tearing around outside.  We enjoyed comfy couches and a television and the novelty of being away.  We swam in the warm waters, we ate heartily, we walked along the blue lake and watched how the light shifted.

This was our place of shalom, our place of peaceful rest, of restoration.  The food seemed to taste better, the colors made to appear deeper, and the scriptures sunk into our hearts with weighted intensity and purpose.  There were no beggars at our gate or phone calls ringing or meetings or obligations of any sort other than the parental kind.  Beautiful gift of God.

 I know Heaven is beyond what my mind can conceive of, but I think I’ve experienced some lovely foretastes.  They cast my heart in eternity’s shape, they aim me aright.  They enable me to say to Suffering, “You’ll not always be with me; I’ll hold your hand and lean into you for what you’ll teach me and how you’ll make me ever more like Jesus”.  To say to Discontent, “Of course you are here, for I was never made to be satisfied with life’s fare”.  To say to Worldly Goods, “You are not my aim, you are an empty promise, you are a food which when eaten, causes hunger”.

God scatters his beauty like invitations, not that we fall in love with the creation, but with the Creator, the Artist, the Maker of all that jaw-dropping splendor.  That we read the promises He whispers in the smell of rain, the embrace of a grandmother, and the fierce red of a tulip.  God inviting.

It Can All Rage And Yet…

It can all rage ugly and hurt and rending,

And yet,

Here and there, pockets of deep peace,

And glory,

And joy.

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Dipping candles yesterday.  What a peaceful, contemplative craft.  Talk about slowing down.  The barely susceptible progress made with each deliberate dip made me think of spiritual progress; that I should not despair when it looks as though I am not growing spiritually.  If God has promised to complete His work within me, He will do it, He is doing it, though I see the changes only through the lens of years.ImageImage

A morning spent drawing with my son.  Gregorian chants and the fifteenth century choral music wrapping us in beauty as we deliberately sketched and colored, slowly.  A thousand thoughts pinged through my mind, on heresies currently rending the patchwork quilt of our church family, leaving my eyes reddened and my stomach hurting, on Ukraine, the tumult and the suffering and my prayers seeming so small against all that.  But for all that inner noise and clang, I had to apply pencil to paper, and eye the lay of the feathers, and the attention brought a borrowed peace.Image

Playmobile ships, stuffed animals dressed as soccer players, presidents, and babies, riding “the train” (a.k.a. the couch).  All his little conversations and sound effects and stories.  I feel the joy of childhood filling up the room and my grown-up worries have to retreat for a while.Image

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It can all rage and yet the seeds still germinate and the nasturtiums still reach for the sun.  And my God is sovereign and good.  And I’ll praise Him in the pockets of peace and in the turbulent places too.  For Christ is our peace, and Christ is portable.

 

Nouwen, Candles, and Presence, Oh MY!

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“We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.

Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

That is why it is so important to “set” the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, ‘This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy it!'”      

-Henri Nouwen

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The really busy mama had told me with a mix of shame and defeat that she only got one meal out of a week of days with her children anymore, sitting down together around a table.  They all had these activities, these schedules, these demands upon their presence.

What I’m not going to do is get up on my soap box about busyness, not right now.  I’d rather submit a few thoughts about the times when we can be around a table together, scooping up and doling out life one to another, in the big holy ordinary of eating a meal in common.

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1) Light some candles.  I can’t think of a better way to get people drawn-in to the table, to the people seated ’round it, than candlelight.  The surrounding darkness makes the table the middle of our story, a place of importance, the rest of the house no longer competes with it’s piles of mail to be sorted and discarded backpacks and lost shoes.  It’s calming (unless you have a budding pyro in the bunch….I hear tell that they make electric tea lights now).

2)  Music?  Yes, please.  There’s some out there that just lifts your day right off your shoulders and whisks it away, beyond the candle’s light.

3)  Flowers, branches, a tablecloth, some bit of beauty there that says that this space was made mindfully.  Flowers usually mean something important is happening, right?  A prom, a wedding, a funeral, a new relationship, the celebration of an old one.

4)  Ditch the paper plates or plasticware (unless you have a budding destructo little person, of course).  The tactile and aural qualities of eating on ceramic or porcelain is worth that extra effort.  I almost think it makes the food taste better :).

5)  Ditch the electronics; no tv babbling in the background nor texting.  If your phone keeps dinging in the next room, go turn it off during dinner so that you’re present at the table, fully there.

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Happy feasting…

 

Presence

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Do you remember when we used to look at faces?  When a meal time was spent with the people at the actual physical table we were sitting at?  Do you remember how we’d mutually try to remember the name of that actor in that one show who later was in that other movie about the heist, and how that wondering and brain-racking ended in a triumphal, “AHA!” when we figured it out together?  Before the age of swiftly answering the question with a quick jab at Google?  Do you remember being present?

Because I think we’re forgetting.

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One of the major culture shocks upon returning from six years in Chile was that young and old alike were to be seen everywhere, bent over their phones, thumbs busy, in their own little worlds.  Even if they were waiting in a grocery line, one person deep, out came the phone, flying went the thumbs, away went the presence.  This was now normal?

I admit that I am a dinosaur.  I have no cell phone and do not desire one.  I still write letters and cards on paper.  Once when I asked for someone’s phone number and handed them my little notebook, they laughed and couldn’t remember the last time they had written a number on paper instead of keying it into a phone.

I am exasperating to my friends.  If we’ve agreed to meet at a park at 11:00 and I’ve left my home at 10:30 to drive there, there is no way to change plans last minute; they know I’ll be at the park wondering where they are.  They can’t get a hold of me if I’m not home, so admittedly I miss out on some fun outings, but you know what?  I am present where I am.

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Along the Caribbean Sea in Honduras

I don’t always handle things graciously.

We had three dear friends visit us in Chile from North America.  They had traveled thousands of miles to see us, to see Chile, to get it all into their hearts and memories.  One evening as we all sat in the living room, I realized that everyone but me was staring at a screen, laptops or phones, all around.  I was alone in a crowd.  I flipped out.  “What are you doing?!?  HELLO!  Why did you travel to another hemisphere just to be looking at that screen when you’re here?!”

I suppress it, but I have an aching desire to throw an adult temper tantrum when I see a couple out on a date, both absorbed in their phones.  I want to go up to them, tap one of them on the shoulder, point at their significant other across the table and say in a voice of awe “Looooook!  There’s a PERSON across from you!  WOW!!!”  Then I would take their cell phone, unceremoniously dunk it into their drink, and walk away.  I assume I’d be charged with destruction of property, but I think I’d smile in my mug shot.

I have found one peaceful way to express my sentiments.  Now, when my husband takes out his phone when we’re together with friends, I quietly leave the table.  If he asks where I’m going, I simply say “I’m sorry, you have left the table, and so I will also”.  He puts his phone away, smiling and rolling his eyes.

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Presence.

It is most heart-breaking to see the lack of it between a parent and their child.

“Mommy, look at me!  Look at me!”, cries the child, bravely balancing on one foot at the top of the slide.

“Uh-huh”, mumbles the mom, staring down at her phone.

“No, Mommy, you aren’t looking!”

“That’s great, honey”, she says, barely looking up before she’s back to that all-absorbing screen.

The child sits down, the child learns that whatever world is accessed through that screen is much more interesting than the one she’s currently exploring.  She can’t wait to have her own screen.

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I am deeply disturbed by how all this technology is affecting kids, not only by robbing them of Mom and Dad’s presence, but of their own.  If a child needs to sit for more than a few minutes, they are handed a cell phone to watch a movie or play games on.  Like boredom and the space for their own thoughts are not important building blocks for hearty imaginations and creativity.  They are being taught that we must be entertained, always.

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It takes away the marvel, doesn’t it?  The awesomeness of this world, even at a grocery store.  As a child, I made up stories in my mind about the people in line with us.  Sometimes we even (gasp!) talked to them.  I read the magazine covers and wondered if Elvis really was hiding out in California instead of being long-dead.

I don’t expect anyone to live as I do, phone-free.  Many use cell phones wisely and kindly, use them to bless others and encourage others, and call tow trucks for stranded old ladies along the road.  Cell phones have saved lives, but also cost lives through misuse while driving.  They are neutral objects in and of themselves, but our use of them, or misuse of them, can cause great harm.

It may help if you think about your cell phone as a book.  Would you get out a book, mid-conversation with someone, and look through it’s pages?  Would you put it right on the table during a lunch date, and repeatedly pick it up and stare at it?  It would only be appropriate if you picked up the book, opened it to the other person with you and showed them something you found interesting.  That would be lovely, no?

With your kids, can you leave the phone at home when you’re at a park, or turn it off when they come home from school?   Can you carve out hours of full presence?  Can you let them squirm and fidget and sprout some imagination while waiting in line, instead of rushing to entertain?  Can we revive being present?  Can we afford to not do so?