What happened during Lent

We’re eating Easter dinner when Uncle Ken looks across the table and asks me a question.

“So Tricia, I was wondering how your decision to give up the internet until noon went?”

I pass the pile of mashed potatoes to my right and wonder how I should answer. I’m glad he’s asked the question (it means someone else besides my mother has been reading my blog) and that he’s sincerely interested, but I’m not entirely happy with my answer. I would love to humbly describe how consistent and disciplined I was through Lent; how I blazed through all 40 days with unwavering commitment. Instead I fumble awkwardly saying something like I tried my best and I made it most of the time to 10:30 am without checking my email or blog…

As far as strictly observing lent, I failed. But in spite of my weak resolve, or maybe because of my weak resolve, I learned a few things. Perhaps failing is the point of Lent.

I learned that my impulse to reach for the mouse and hear the clacking of the keyboard is stronger than I thought it was.

I learned that checking emails isn’t as life changing as I think it will be. The mornings I spent at home writing were the worst. Checking my clock every ten minutes to see if I could finally open my email built anticipation with every passing moment. When the time finally came I would eagerly type my password only to be greeted with subject lines that read Don’t miss the next West Jet promotion! or Your inbox is 99% full. In a slump of disappointment I would close it and wonder what I had been waiting for in the first place. What kind of news was I hoping to find? How fulfilling could a digital message be?

I learned that starting my day with stillness instead of search engines makes a difference. Like re-setting a cheap watch or tuning a violin, my perspective seems to need frequent upkeep. If I let it go unchecked everything starts to spiral inwards until all I can think about is the little universe of Tricia: the salsa fermenting in my cupboard, the next job I have at school, our summer plans, the unwritten chapter of my book, who I will invite for supper, the shirt I need to buy for my daughter… The more my world shrinks, the more suffocated I feel. But it’s a drowsy suffocation; like sucking in fumes inside a closed garage.

Somehow being still and reading the story of Jesus or prophecies told to a tribe in the Middle East provides release. It opens the garage door a little. Before I am totally inebriated with myself I read a verse, pray for someone, or sit quietly to listen and my narrow world of self begins to expand. It’s a slow, creaky process and not nearly as dramatic as I would like. But it’s a start. A crack to let in the Light and fresh air. I read the following passage yesterday, and I think it helps to explain what I’m trying to say.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you have have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the riches of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live
(Isaiah 55 1-3)

Thanks for asking the question Ken…

Tricia

PS. Here are more pictures of our week with family in Indiana:

Grandma taught both girls how to sew on their own!

Grandma taught both girls how to sew on their own!

...and they actually produced wearable skirts (with a little extra help)

They actually produced wearable skirts (with a little extra help)

Susie, me, and Belén (with her homemade skirt) rollerskating. We decided tying roller skates was much better than freezing our fingers at the outdoor rinks where we live.

Susie, me, and Belén (with her homemade skirt) rollerskating. We decided tying roller skates was much better than freezing our fingers at the outdoor rinks where we live.

Belén, cousin Simon, and Aunty Anne working on the eggs

Belén, cousin Simon (pondering the meaning of life), and Aunty Anne working on the eggs

Easter eggs, decorated with white crayon before getting dipped in colour.

Susanna’s favourite moment with cousin Lucy

Aunty Anne finally gets a chance to hold her own baby!

And of course, cutting wood…

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Grandpa going strong!

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A mess, two books, and Lent

Have you ever read two contradictory books at the same time? It’s an interesting little experiment. When you pick up one book, your mind sets off running in one direction; with the next book, every page sends your thoughts exactly the opposite way.

My literary dual happened mostly by accident. Two different people recommended two different books, and I happened to pick them up from the library at the same time.

A perfect mess: The Benefits of Disorder by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman presents a convincing argument on “how crammed closets, cluttered offices, and on-the-fly planning make the world a better place”. When I hit the second chapter, I flip back to the first page to check the publication date.  2006.  I can’t believe it has taken me seven years to find this book! I scribble messy notes on odd-shaped paper scraps jubilantly, stopping only to pick up my camera and take these photos with a lighthearted guffaw:

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Craft cabinet in main living area–I arranged NOTHING before this shot–I didn’t even have to open any doors or drawers.

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This is not pathological mess, just what happens naturally if things are not picked up for a day (or even a few hours).

*Side note: My house is like a boiling pot of pasta; if I’m not right on top of it, it boils over.  Sometimes, I feel like all I’m doing is clamping down on the lid, or giving it a quick stir before the whole thing explodes over the top.

The authors’ stories of successful hardware stores outselling big box stores, precisely because they are chaotic and overstocked, and scientists who make world-changing discoveries (penicillin) are fascinating. The thread of their argument–we incorrectly assume order/neatness/planning is beneficial in any organization, home or relationship and we underestimate the efficiency, creativity and innovation that comes from disorder–is thrilling for someone like me.  I am halfway through A Perfect Mess when I pick up the other book I had checked out: 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.

The author, Laura Vanderkam makes a case for order. Specifically, ordering your priorities so every hour of the week–all 168 of them–are spent wisely, according to your “core competencies”, life plan and vision. She makes some good points, and I am inspired enough to take notes (again, messy notes on shreds of paper), but by Chapter 5 I start getting panicky. Addressing professional time management, she counsels readers to forge the right connections, start blogs to attract thousands of readers, and spin a story to make a name for themselves in their industry. Most importantly, she advises readers to spend every minute of their 30-50 hour work week (her recommended minimum amount) in a way that directly contributes to their professional goal.

The next morning I reach for the mouse, to check my email and blog stats, even before I start making breakfast. I still feel a little jittery, wondering how I will ever be able to “brand, name, spin, and connect” enough to accomplish my own professional goal: to write a book and get it published. And so, with sleep in my eyes I click on logins and passwords, eager to start my day with a message, a comment, or some such “hit”.

Soon Belén wanders into the kitchen and I dutifully minimize the screen as every mindful-mom would.

She reminds me that today is Ash Wednesday: “We’re all going to mass, and I don’t really want to get the ash on my forehead, but the bus ride with my friends will be good… Hey mom, what are you giving up for Lent?”

I haven’t really had time to think about what I’m giving up with all this mind-chatter and reading about what I’m trying to get.

Belén suggests, “Maybe you should give up chips?”

She nails one of my many weaknesses on the head, but before I can agree or disagree, she tells me she’s giving up cleaning her room.

“That’s not fair,” I tell her, “And anyway, it’s not going to be chips this year.”

I don’t always observe Lent, and I wasn’t really prepared to do anything this year, until a few moments ago. Suddenly I know what I want to do without.

For the next forty days, I want to wake up without the internet. In fact, I’m going to wait until noon until I check my email or wordpress site. And maybe, instead of worrying about all the connections I’m failing to make or the great leaps ahead of me in my professional life, I’ll start my day in stillness. Stillness without a flickering monitor. The kind of stillness where I might calibrate my agenda with a verse or a prayer, instead of a self-help guru.

It’s really an embarrassingly small sacrifice. Denying myself a few messages in the morning seems paltry compared to other great acts of spiritual discipline, but that is where I am at today. Perhaps this change in my daily routine–seven days of slower starts–will add up to nothing more than a mere hour, or two, per week. Even so, I’m hoping this changes the other 166 hours!

-Tricia

PS. I don’t think I explicitly said this, but I recommend both of the books I mentioned in this post, especially if read simultaneously!

PSS. I hope you feel well loved tomorrow!! We will be spending a romantic evening together doing more snow sculpting :)… photos to come later…