Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Few Thoughts as Lent Begins...

For the past few weeks I'd been thinking about what to "do" for Lent this year, wanting whatever I chose to be meaningful and fruitful.  As that was mulling around in my brain, I came across some readings in a couple of my prayer books on the subject of discipline.  Discipline is a difficult area for me sometimes (hello not wanting to exercise, get to bed on time or use free time wisely!).  I  started thinking about the relationship between discipline and discipleship--how being a good disciple requires discipline.  So, I started with one of my favorite nerd things to do--looking up the etymology of both words.  Both words originate from the latin disciplina, meaning "to learn."  Hmmm.  Interesting.  So, when we cultivate more discipline in our lives, we open ourselves up to learning better.  I liked the sound of that.  And my quandary of "what to do for Lent" was solved: cultivate more discipline and, in turn, learn more about good discipleship.

I decided to severely limit my computer time (social media only to check messages--no scroll-throughs or clicking links), to read Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic and Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter throughout Lent and to start a regular diciplined exercise regime.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, theveryfirst day of Lent, and it felt hard.  I never realized how much entertainment "idle-clicking-style" computer time had been giving me.  Yikes.  I didn't like this realization, because I like to think of myself as someone who has a pretty good balance of screen time to "real life" living.  So, only one day into my Lenten practice and I'm already learning!  The other thing I realized, a kind of ugly truth to accept, is that a part of me felt resentful of my self-imposed rules.  As it turns out, I don't like people telling me what I can and can't do with my time--even when that person is me!  How odd to feel resentful of something I chose to do in order to learn and grow and better myself.  It reminds me that saying yes to ourselves and indulging our, even harmless, whims and desires is not necessarily what's best for us.

I can't wait to see what this season of Lent will teach me.  I already feel more of a sense of peace (my word for the year) as I settle into this simpler, more disciplined routine.  My mind feels more focused (much less of that "monkey brain" feeling my mindless computer clicking had been causing) and more conscious awareness of the pockets of free time I have between tasks in my day.  I like the still, quiet sense of being that is beginning to enter.  I like the freedom (freedom defined as "becoming who you are meant to be" which I read in this book) it affords me to engage in pastimes that will feed me.  I like the reminder throughout the day that God is there, waiting to teach me more about Himself, in this season of quiet reflection.

I'll leave you with this lovely quote I've been pondering, an excerpt of "Ash Wednesday" by T.S. Eliot:

Are you engaging in any special practices this Lent?  How is it going so far?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How to Find Stillness in a Culture that Tells you to Do More

Awhile back I read an article from the New Yorker called No Time by Elizabeth Kolbert. The article takes an in-depth look at how Americans use their time, suggesting a growing addiction to busyness.  Americans, it seems, feel the need to use up every single minute of their time, without allowing much space in the day for rest.  And, worse than that, people tend to brag about how busy we are, as if all this frenetic over-scheduling gives us a sense of purpose.  We almost feel ashamed of our leisure time, as if we're not important enough without a giant list of activities on our calenders.    What is going on with Americans, and how do we stop this?  This growing trend in busyness is evident by looking through past Christmas letters and cards:

"Researcher, Ann Burnett, has collected five decades’ worth of holiday letters and found that they’ve come to dwell less and less on the blessings of the season and more and more on how jam-packed the previous year has been. Based on this archive, Burnett has concluded that keeping up with the Joneses now means trying to outschedule them."

How sad.  For the past 50 years, Americans have been trading in their precious time of quiet reflection for an over-stuffed calender.  But filling every minute of our lives with activity is not how we're meant to live.  We need stillness. We need true rest.  And I don't mean mindlessly scrolling through emails or binge-watching the latest season on Netflix (although I do love me some Netflix!), but real restOur minds can't keep up this exhausting pace without losing something--like our health, personal development and spiritual growth.  Kolbert addresses the negative effects of this mental preoccupation:

"A lawyer playing with his kids is technically at leisure, but if all the while he’s checking his phone for texts from the office he may feel that he hasn’t had any time off. Schulte terms this the “mental tape-loop phenomenon,” and she argues that it’s sapping our precious energies, so that we can’t even “decide what to think about, worrying about home stuff at work and work stuff at home.'”

So, even when we have time off, we still feel the need to occupy our brains in an energy-reducing way.  But it gets even worse.  This preoccupation with busyness has a snowball effect, as it's fed by an emphasis on consumerism:

"Instead of quitting early, they [Americans] find new things to need." Europeans will further reduce their working hours and become even more skilled at taking time off, while Americans, having become such masterful consumers, will continue to work long hours to buy more stuff."

So, the catch-22 is that more the stuff we convince ourselves we need to enjoy our days off, the less actual leisure time we end up getting, since we need to work more in order to buy more. And, in the end, most of this stuff just ends up weighing us down, and keeping us from what truly fulfills.  Another problem with all of this busyness is that our identities become enmeshed with our work lives.  Our sense of purpose is then based on the quantity and type of work we do:

Work may not set us free, but it lends meaning to our days, and without it we’d be lost.

I think there's a false belief in America, that those who are wealthy, have the most leisure time.  If we close our eyes, it's not hard to imagine the stereotypical sunlit stroll through a golf course and luxurious beach vacations.  But this is often not the reality for those who are well off.  Kolbert states that: "the disproportionately compensated have a disproportionate motive to keep on working. (taking a day off when you're rich means losing a TON of money versus just a few bucks for someone who is poor)."

So, what is the way out of this mess?  How do we effectively reclaim our leisure time and get the real rest we need?  I think there are two simple things we can do to help remedy the addiction to doing:

1) Realize that "needing more stuff" is a myth (The old adage that money does not buy happiness is just as true today as ever!)

2) Make an effort to be truly present and schedule white space into your day

There's a simple exercise you can do to assess what really brings you joy. Jot down a list of some of your best memories--the times when you were most happy.  When you are done, look at your list and see how many of those memories involved a lot of expensive "stuff", or whether they were things you could do for very little money.  Now look to see if the time was a fast-paced jam-packed day, or whether time time felt slow.  Very often some of our best memories are times spent with loved ones in very simple ways--going for walks with Grandma or picnics at the lake.  Nothing rushed, nothing extravagant.  No deadlines looming or texts and emails to send.  Just time lived slowly and lived well.  Time cherished with loved ones.

I encourage you to examine the pace and activity level of your life.  Is there a way to reclaim more leisure time and slow the pace down a bit?  Do you agree with Kolbert's article?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Things that are Saving my Life Right Now

Winter has always been my least-favorite season.  It's long.  Its cold.  (Did I mention that it's long?!)  Somewhere around February I yearn for green and living things, in the midst of all of the white and grey swirling around.  I recently read a blog post about making a list of things that are saving your life right now, in the midst of dreary winter.  I loved this idea...similar to gratitude list, but more season-specific.  I figured I'd give it a try and it turned out to be quite long!  This practice was another reminder to me that there are always blessings tucked into difficult and dreary seasons, so long as we keep our eyes open to see them.  So, without further ado, here is my list of some of the "wee little" (I couldn't resist!) things that are saving my life this winter:

Megan catching snowflakes on her tongue :)

1) Trips to the library

The kids and I always look forward to visiting the library, but there is definitely an extra life-saving element to it, when we all have a case of cabin fever.  When we start to feel too stir-crazy, the library promises hours and hours of FREE entertainment.  We shuffle off with empty tote bags in hand and excitedly peruse the shelves for interesting titles.  The kids' moods are instantly improved, as is mine!  When we get back home, we pop some popcorn and dive right into our bags of printed goodness!

Our current "haul" (and I do mean a literal HAUL.  Those totebags get HEAVY!)

2) My slippers

A couple of years ago I picked up this pair of shearling slippers on an after-Christmas sale, and it's been true love ever since.  They keep my feet toasty warm without over-heating or getting all stinky and sweaty, like synthetic materials sometimes do.  They are SO super's hard to take them off when I need to go somewhere!  Which leads me to #3 on my list...

My favorite slippers...well worn and well loved!

3) Boots with wool socks

I've always had low blood pressure, so my hands and feet get cold very easily.  When I need to head out in the snow, I LOVE wearing boots with wool socks to keep me warm and dry!  The boots keep my pant-legs from getting all soggy (the WORST!!) and wool socks keep my oft-icy toes super toasty!  It's *almost* as good as wearing my slippers!

4) Soup

I've always been a soup-aholic, and have even shared a few recipes over the years of my personal favorites.  There's nothing like warming up with a steaming bowl of homemade, healthful soup to cheer up a dreary day!  I love to serve mine in an over-sized mug, while warming my ( icy!) hands on the sides.  This Chicken and Couscous Stew is one of my current favorites. So so good.

Butternut Squash soup--one of my faves!

5) Celebrating "little" holidays

After Christmas and New Years, there is a whole 'lotta winter left, without much celebrating to do.  To help cheer us all up, while waiting for Spring, I like to make a semi-big deal out of the little holidays, including: Chinese New Year, Valentine's Day, Groundhog Day, Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day.  We make crafts, we bake tasty treats, we put up decorations and read fun books.  It really helps make the remainder of winter more exciting!

Making "Fai Chun" for Chinese New Year

Our silly Mardi Gras masks we made last year
The "wearing of the green" for St. Paddy's last year. (How did a whole year fly by so fast?!)

6) Trying New Hobbies

Winter is the perfect time of year to dig into some new hobbies.  This winter I'm trying my hand at making homemade wine.  It's a lot of fun!  It's still in process right now (in the "secondary fermenter"), but I hope it will turn out yummy!

Luke's latest hobby is 3D puzzles!

7) Afternoon Tea with Read-Alouds

I love the simple beauty and cheer of gathering around the table every afternoon for a cup of something comforting, a little snack and a great book to read aloud.  Sometimes we make tea, other times it's hot cocoa or even lemonade (usually coffee for me!), but we always have a great book to go with it.  Right now the kids and I are enjoying the American Girl Felicity Series.  I wasn't sure if the boys would get into them, but they like them, too!  We've been reading this book along with the series, which also has great information about life circa 1774.

Sometimes we get fancy and bust out the nice china, but most of the time we keep it pretty simple!
Thank you, library, for helping us keep our sanity this winter!

This is just a small section of my much longer list of things are "saving my life" this winter.  They're just a few of the little things that help brighten my day and fill me with hope and joy.  I'd love to hear some of yours!  If you'd like to share your list or see some others, check out the link over at Modern Mrs. Darcy.


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