Dust of Snow

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I always say that a walk in the snow is good for the soul.

And so on this day I peel my body from the warmth of the sunken cushion of my chair, swath myself in layers of wool, cotton and anticipation, and step into the snow globe. Snow is a curious and wondrous thing. Cold and warm all at once. Inviting or foreboding, depending on the slant and speed of the wind.

Today it sinks down from the clouds all wet, heavy and thick, and without a force to pull it sideways. Only unfiltered gravity bringing it straight down. Magic from the sky. Surreal. Some days it blows hard against my face, freezing my lashes and burning my cheeks. But not today. Today it is soft little pillows rolling down from above like spools of ribbon unfurling.

I snowshoe my way toward an opening in the woods, across the alfalfa field now hibernating beneath a crisp white down comforter. Here the forest trail begins. A tall arched wooden entrance into this great cathedral that is ancient, drowsy, yet very much alive within the silence.

In this place my senses awaken to the the sacred dance between tangles of light, stark branches, sticky snow crystals and hope renewed.

My heart quickens, pushing my body forward, slicing it’s way down the trail through thick snow drifts. The weight of my layers seems to increase as my body grows all sticky with sweat beneath them.

Coming upon an undisturbed clearing beside barren blackberry bushes, I let myself fall backwards into the warmth of the snow. I slip into the white like an angel without wings.

Exhausted yet very much alive. Alert and with sharpened senses, my wandering gives way to long quiet wondering as the curious warmth accumulates and wraps itself around me like a lover, in the simple sacredness of this moment, on a frozen patch of the earth.

Breathe in. Breathe out. The silence of snow is spellbinding. Serene and restful. Life-giving.

I am grounded.

The dust of myself is sunk deep into the dust of snow. I become acutely aware of my connectedness to the earth, this season of myself present in the seasons of this planet. My breath rises and falls and curls above my face in a puff of steam. And the whole world seems to rise and fall like this– in deep breaths, long sighs and sacred seasons. Exhaustion. Exhilaration. Swirling, then still. Here, then gone. A silent interplay of light and shadows. Drowsy yet very much alive.

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Twelve Traditions to Simplify Christmas

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We didn’t have a lot of material stuff when I was a kid.

A few meager Christmas gifts under a Charlie Brown Christmas tree were the norm during the holiday season. Even so, the anticipation of Christmas captivated me. The Advent season was filled with baking special Christmas sweets, pastries and holiday breads, crafting homemade ornaments with mom, thick religious liturgies and singing in the church choir. These small elements of the season held more warmth than ten fireplaces in one small room ever could. Christmas Day promised a fancy meal by candlelight on the good dishes with the freshly-polished silverware.

Unwrapping the precious few gifts we were given surrounded by the warm glow of strung up lights and the love of family, felt like receiving and holding all the goodness of the entire world in my small open hands.

 It seems to me that our materialistic, highly-consumerist culture has piled unhealthy expectations on Christmas. We wrestle our way through the bustle of the season and spend, spend, spend, spend. Because that is what is expected of us. Because our endorphins are hungry for the immediate satisfaction of spending big, giving big and receiving big, and because our knees bend to those fat newspapers, gorged on advertisements that show up on our doorstep every Sunday throughout Advent.

Over the years, our family has been increasingly attempting to resist the assumption that Christmas is supposed to be so tightly twisted up with consumerism. We have sought to simplify it. To make it smaller. Smaller in a way that hopefully makes it more meaningful and more memorable. Here are twelve suggested alternatives to the consumerism that has invaded our Christmas traditions.

 

celebrate simple things Lift up the seemingly insignificant. Make a big deal about something small that your family will make special and reserve only for Christmas. For example, at our house, we do a big puzzle over Christmas break, we split open and eat pomegranates letting the juice drip freely down our chin, we watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Sound of Music, and my husband unearths his old gaming systems– the Atari 2600 and Nintendo 64. Every year over Christmas break these antiques emerge from the basement storage for a few days while we dive into Centipede, Donkey Kong, Mario Brothers, and about 100 other games. It’s an annual experience of reliving memories for my husband and building new ones with our kids. Even though we could do this stuff any time of the year, we mostly save it for Christmas. We wait. We anticipate. We celebrate.

 

plan your summer fun Use the time off of work and/or school to discuss and plan for your summer vacation– whether a cruise, a road trip, camping at a local park, renting a cottage, or planning a series of day trips. We’re a camping, hiking, off-the-beaten-path adventuring, road-tripping family. Over Christmas break we begin dreaming together about where we’ll travel over the summer. We read about various national parks and state parks and lesser known places, and discuss what corner of the world we’ll explore when summer comes. 

 

edible masterpieces In the weeks leading up to Christmas, bake special goodies as a family. Wrap them up for gifts or bring trays to your holiday parties. Our family reserves a day to make my Grandmother’s White Moravian Christmas Cookie recipe, which basically consists of butter, sugar, heavy cream and you don’t want to know what else. We spend an afternoon around the table being artistically meticulous with our decorating. It involves lots of petite candies and paintbrushes dipped in every imaginable color of homemade almond icing as we create little edible masterpieces.

Note: While the kids look forward to this event for weeks, as soon as they tire of the detailed decorating, you will likely sit at the table alone smearing gobs of icing over the remaining cookies just to get it done.

 

shop second hand Exchange names within your family and go on treasure-hunting excursions, scouring the shelves of area second-hand stores for the perfect gift for your person. At the same time, have everyone in the family select a few of their own items from home that they no longer use and donate them to the same store for someone else to discover on their treasure-hunt. The proceeds of many thrift stores benefit non-profit organizations. So in addition to giving a carefully-selected gift to your loved one, you’ll be giving to a charitable cause.

 

give directly to a non-profit organization Seek out an organization that is working to help people who are in some way marginalized and/or oppressed. As a family, learn about these people, the daily struggles they face as well as the issues surrounding the struggle, what their needs are and how best to support the organization that is coming alongside of them. A few of our favorites are World Vision, Bread for the World and International Rescue Mission.

Note: Our family celebrates Christmas as the birth of Jesus. We receive gifts on our birthday, so it seems obvious that we ought to find a way to give to the one whose birth we celebrate rather than primarily using the event as an excuse to get more of the latest in our own clutches. Our view is that Jesus primarily identified with the outcasts, the poor, the lowly, the unlovable, the neglected and voiceless in society. The Christmas season can be a natural time to recalibrate ourselves to this purpose– the purpose of peace on earth and goodwill to all people — particularly as it goes directly against what our culture of capitalism values and has done with the holiday and with life in general.

 

shop local artisans One of my favorite places to gift shop is wherever local artisans are selling their wares. In my hometown, we have a Christmas market set up downtown on Saturdays during the weeks prior to Christmas. Temporary booths are installed where local artists sell their handiwork, crafted with care. Jewelry, pottery, carved wooden objects, knitted outerwear, paintings, books, wreaths, etc. In addition to supporting local artisans, you’ll find truly unique and special gifts.

 

make something Paint something, build something, sew something, write poetry, carve something, knit something, create something, fold origami, put together a music playlist of family favorites, make a scrapbook of memories, etc. For example, one year this resulted in building and staining wooden treasure boxes for each of the kids. Another year it was sewing superman costumes for everyone. Another it was knitting matching scarves for everyone.

Note: the scarves were not a hit.

 

give experiences, not stuff  Invest in a legacy of memories– not stuff. In my experience, doing things together as a family builds sweeter memories than gathering piles of possessions which eventually find their way to a landfill. Tickets to a play or a baseball game, a weekend exploring museums and restaurants in an area city, a camping excursion, an annual state parks pass, or gift cards to restaurants, bowling lanes, mini golf, etc. While material stuff generally has a life expectancy, the memories made through meaningful experiences can truly last a lifetime.

 

games We happen to be a gaming family– board games, card games, yard games, etc. Christmas break offers two weeks of intense game-playing. Make your holiday gaming extra special by having tournaments and home-made trophies for the win. The winners get bragging rights and a trophy on their shelf until next year when the tournaments come around again and the trophy is up for grabs.

Note: this becomes significantly more fun when your kids get past the Chutes and Ladders level of game playing competence. Also, sometimes small fights break out.

 

the gift of story One of our favorite Christmas morning traditions has been giving the gift of story. Everyone in the family has to write a story some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and read it to the family on Christmas morning. Name a theme for the stories or leave it wide open. If your kids are too young to write, you can have them dictate their story to a parent.

Note: we definitely went through a stage with our boys when boogers, poop and farts somehow came into every. Single. Story. Just go with it. I promise you will look back on your collection of stories over the years and giggle your hearts out.

 

Christmas Eve candlelight service Our family embraces the Christian faith and so Christmas Eve candlelight services have been a meaningful family tradition for us. Here we enter the story of Jesus birth– a light for the least of those living under a brutal Empire. A reminder that Jesus sits in the dark places with the uncelebrated, voiceless, powerless people of the world, and we ought to do the same. This annual liturgical service of readings and music proves a powerful and meaningful reminder for our family in this season.

 

books and sketchbooks On Christmas morning our family unwraps a few books and fresh sketchbooks. Part of our daily family routine involves my husband and/or I reading aloud before bed while the kids doodle in their sketchbooks. With Christmas comes a few new books for the upcoming year and fresh sketchbooks for the kids.

 

My hope in building these kinds of traditions with our family is that our kids will one day appreciate some of the values that we’re trying to instill. That joy and contentment does not come from bigger barns filled with more and more of the latest and biggest and fastest stuff. Joy and contentment can be found in the simple and the mundane. That reducing what we consume helps preserve the planet and is good for the world. And that learning about social and systemic injustice and finding ways to come alongside the least of those in our world who suffer under unjust systems and impossible life circumstances is foundational to what it means to be spiritual, and what it means to be part of human community, and certainly what it means to be a follower of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate in this season.

What are some Christmas traditions you’ve heard about or that your family has done that you’ve found to be meaningful? 

A Holy Gritty Sacred Mess

climate-change-plant-1Note: this is a journal entry from our 2012 summer on the road, exploring the Western U.S.

The Honda Odyssey crawled up the gravel switchback, barely recognizable under so many layers of dust, grit and grime—remnants of the several states we have driven through so far.  I held my breath as we rocked like a ship on stormy seas, up the narrow roadway, scattered with so many potholes, leaving rumbling clouds of dust in our wake.

The Odyssey sputtered, coughed it’s way up slowly, barely.  The challenge of these obstacles, coalescing with the intense heat of that day and the grade so steep, proved almost too much for our exhausted aging minivan.

As we rounded the last bend, with a great sigh my shoulders released the tension that I was somewhat unaware had managed to slowly and so thoroughly worm its way into my muscles.

Throughout this summer on the road, we have made a habit of finding these off-the-beaten-path, primitive campgrounds on Preserved National lands.  Seven dollars per night is soft on the budget though, it turns out, rather hard on the body.

It’s been over a week since I’ve seen the inside of a shower stall and I’m at a breaking point—daily hikes under the hot sun have brought my body to record levels of an unpleasant stench—my exterior mirroring that of the Odyssey. The sweaty salt residue left from the strain of hikes in the Tetons and Yellowstone is an all around sticky, gritty business fused to my body.

Tonight is going to be another soft-on-the-budget, hard-on-the-body night.  But at the bottom of the switchback, the sign for this campground boasted of a flowing river.

A flowing river.

The images of sparkling mountain spring water flowing outside my tent was almost too much to hope for. My hope had my imagination leaping ahead of the slow crawl of the van– up to the river where I would soak in the cool water, suds rinsing off my body and hair. And oh, the smell of six clean bodies that would fill the tent tonight!  Finally(!) I was going to get clean.

It wasn’t difficult to find an empty site in a nearly empty campground (the primitive ones ones are always nearly empty).  I immediately searched the car for some soap, some shampoo, a towel, and headed for the nearby river, desperate to scrub.

I waded through the weeds and shrubbery at the edge of the river. There seemed to be a lot of weeds and shrubbery. Continuing through the scratchy briars, with one eye out for bears, my eagerness swelled with each quickening step.

And then I arrived. I arrived at the river. My heart dropped ten fast floors. Where the water once meandered there was nothing but a maze of cracks in the scorched, dried and thirsty ground.

I was feeling rather cracked and dried up myself.  On the verge of emotional collapse under the triple-digit heat. I dragged myself back through the brush to the campsite feeling quite sorry for myself, in the very sorry and pathetic state I was in. My husband was setting up the tent with the kids.

“Bryan.  I NEED a shower.” It took all my energy just to put my hands on my hips and speak with authority.

The tears had left lines down my dry dusty cheeks.  “I can’t do ONE MORE DAY without a shower.”

“Maybe we’ll find one tomorrow,” he said.  Same thing he said last night.

I turned away to sulk when three year old Josephine approached me, holding her crotch and stepping quickly from one foot to the other and back again. “I have to go potty SUPER bad!”

I picked her up and headed for the pit toilet a few campsites away.  I’m not particularly fond of pit toilets but they do the job. And I can definitely endure them for seven dollars a night. I’ve mastered the habit of holding my breath, dodging cobwebs, keeping my eyes on my feet (so I don’t ever have to know what critters are lurking in the corners), doing my business quickly and leaping back out the door all before having to draw in a single breath.

But Josephine, seemingly oblivious to the offensive odors, likes to sit and take her time.  She likes to sing in these disgusting confines. She likes to sit and make up little story songs about the little critters she imagines are in the corners of these foul, loathsome pit toilets. I always try to dodge toilet duty with Josephine.

On this day she began a song about a lonely little spider stuck in a sad little pit-toilet jail.  As she opened her mouth, I immediately felt the first prick of impatience beginning to frustrate me. I can handle this any day. Even smile at it. But not today. Today I can’t.

But as the music started coming, my ears perked up to listen. Something was unusual about this outhouse. This was a solid concrete pit toilet and the sound moved differently. Concrete floor, concrete wall, and plastered ceiling.  It echoed.  It was beautiful. It sounded like music in a great cathedral. It brought me back to high school choir. Without realizing it, my eyelids slid shut and and I rested my back against the wall, feeling some distant, familiar holiness in the moment.

I was relaxed. At peace in the pit toilet.

Josephine finished her song and her business, and was off. I locked the door behind her and decided to stay a bit longer as I found myself recalling classical Latin choral pieces and ancient hymns. My mouth opened and I sang, getting lost in smooth melodies composed so long ago.

They echoed off the walls so richly and beautifully. My voice flowed from one arrangement to the next, pulling songs off some dusty shelf tucked back somewhere deep in my brain.

A knock on the door from a waiting camper jarred me to the reality that I’m singing in the crapper and someone needs to take a legitimate crap. I opened the door, slightly embarrassed, slipped out, and quickly moved on.

All evening I keep going back though. I continue drawing in deep breaths of stale, putrid fecal air and releasing melodies so sweet they make me forget about the stink of the pit toilet and the stink of me.

I am magnetized to these sacred little moments in the pit toilet.

May I ever have the courage to enter the pit toilets of my world. May I have the eyes to see the sacredness within the mess. And may I have a spirit that is willing to lift my voice in the midst of it.

No Small Wonder

It’s black Friday, and I’m sitting in a hushed house with ribbons of steam rising off my mug of coffee, as the early morning light cascades through the east-facing glass panes, sifting through the draperies all warm and smoldering. Tiny dust particles levitate in it. A sure sign I am overdue for dusting and vacuuming, but for now I’m content to sit and watch them drift and float through the orange-yellow glow.

Such a small wonder.

I reminisce back to when I was a child. The way I would rush down from my frigid upstairs drafty farmhouse bedroom on winter mornings and lay in the spot where the sun came through the window in a tall thick beam of light, falling across the living room carpet. There too, I would lay and stare up at the dust particles doing their flighty thing in the thick earthy hues of dawn. This was my warm morning welcome place as I would wait for my dad to stoke up the fire in the wood stove to an eventual toasty home.

Such a simple pleasure. So basic and everyday. A gift of the mornings.

But now I snap awake to thinking about how on this very day people are being trampled into the ground in their race for more of the latest stuff so they can add to their mountains and piles and climb up on them and keep watch for the next newer and next latest thing to appear on the horizon.

How strange we humans are that just a few hours after naming the things we are grateful for, we enter Advent – a time of anticipating the birth of Emmanuel, “God with us” — by rushing the doors of department stores, fighting for shopping carts, needing the latest upgrades and technology and clothing styles and kitchen gadgets and odd useless stocking stuffers, snatching things as we smash through the crowds, and then grumbling as we wait “forever” in the checkout line.

We consume to the point of miserable gaseous bloating. Yet, we never seem to be able to stop this rushing addictive consumption that leads us to the wasteland.

At the end of the day, in our fevered exhaustion, we disgruntledly whine and swear we will never do this miserable Black Friday thing again… until we crack open the front door next Thanksgiving and the fat fleshy newspaper stares up at us from the stoop, and we can’t resist the urge to plunge ourselves deep into its folds and hold in our clutches the seductive promises that this new thing will definitely and finally lead to happiness and contentment.

What is this madness we call Christmas?

I trail my thoughts back to the magic happening right now, just inside my window. And I realize this is no small wonder at all. It’s incredible. Wonder-filled. It’s the perfect coalescing of air and light and movement and temperature and tiny particles adrift. It’s amazing. A gift. And it will never happen just exactly like this ever again.

I’m so glad I didn’t rush away and miss this gift of the morning.

Sympathetic Vibrations

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I was eager to impress my violin instructor with my improvements on this week’s song, Da Slocket Light. But it sort of came out like all the notes had been swept off the page, thrown into a blender and then poured back onto the page. It was a total cacophony of sound. A bit grinding on the ears.

Da Slockit Light was composed by Tom Anderson, a Scottish fiddler. He shared in an interview once that the depopulation of the town of his birth inspired him to write this tune. “I was coming out of Eshaness in late January, 1969, the time was after 11 pm and as I looked back at the top of the hill leading out of the district, I saw so few lights compared to what I remembered when I was young. As I watched, the lights started going out one by one. That, coupled with the recent death of my wife, made me think of the old word ‘Slockit’ meaning, a light that has gone out, and I think that is what inspired the tune.”

When played well, this popular tune does really seem like a walk through the hill country, at night, in the quiet, gazing at the hillside where lights are going out one by one as the inhabitants settle into their sleep. It’s a story filled with layers of meaning, nostalgia and emotion.

On YouTube you can find a hundred different versions of the song each with its own spin and spirit. It’s a fiddle tune, so it’s meant to be played around with a little.

However, my instructor was not quite so impressed with my playing that day.

“Christy. Slow it way down and drop all the fancy fingering.” These were the words of my Violin Master. My Yoda. They were not the words this apprentice wanted that day. I wanted the fancy fingering to be applauded. Wanted to make my fingers jump around the fingerboard and play the song as I wished it to sound. The way the legendary fiddlers play it.

But let’s be real. I’m still very new at this thing. Still can’t make it speak the way I want it to. Still prone to squeaks, and sharps and flats and entirely misplaced fingers. Any illusions of grandeur are immediately put to rest when I start to actually play.

He instructs me to start over and play it very slow. “Unnaturally slow.” Unnaturally slow so as to hear every little thing rolling off my strings. Every sweet and terrible thing.

And so I do. For a week I slowed it down and stepped back to the basics. Eliminated all the slides and frills and trills. I set aside the creative liberties, in order to first get acquainted with the foundational notes of the song, and I aimed to spin those notes off the strings with conviction and perfection.

The thing is, it’s hard to play unnaturally slow. It’s… well… unnatural, to state the obvious.

I found it more difficult than running forward quickly through the song. Quickly in a way that the mistakes blur with what I get right, and where its more difficult to distinguish specifically where I’m on from where I’m off, thereby making it easier to ignore the errors and therefore more difficult to correct the errors.

Yes, it’s easier to fly through the song haphazardly. However, it’s far less pleasant to listen to, it turns out. And I’m reminded that making music that’s pleasant to listen to is the goal afterall.

So I did it. I slowed it down. Way dawn. Waaaay waaaaay down. So way down, it hurt my brain.

I slowed it down to slower than being stuck behind Grandma’s Oldsmobile, driving down a two-lane road. Slower than that. And it was hard. It required patience. I was desperate to pass, because life feels too short to be stuck going so slow and I want to find a short cut to mastering this instrument. I want to be amazing. Today.

It’s hard to take it slow when you live in a world that is constantly trying to sell you shortcuts and quick fixes and your best life now for everything.

Mastering the violin is a long slow road in a no passing zone. And it turns out, there are no short cuts. And it requires being present right where you are in every moment.

So I spent the week doing as I was instructed to do. Maybe a bit begrudgingly inside. Perhaps with a slight gash to my pride. But I did it. I stuck with it.

I simplified the sound. Cut out the clutter. Found the song again and made it beautiful.

The thing is, when I tapped the brakes on my bowing, in addition to actually beginning to play the right notes, I heard every note too. Clearly. Warmly. Intentionally. I was able to adjust the flat notes and pay attention to every finger placement. I began to see how each note has a purpose in telling the story Tom Anderson set out to tell.

And then came the really amazing part. My whole violin began to vibrate, to reverberate warm waves of sound through its spine. Long humming strokes of the bow coaxed out something wonderful. Something you kind of have to experience to understand. Like a compassionate physical touch, those sound waves travelled from the spine of the violin right straight down into the spine of me.

My instructor explained this fascinating phenomenon that happens between the strings of the violin when you hit certain notes just exactly perfect. It’s called, “sympathetic vibrations.” It occurs when the fingers placed on one string play the same note as the neighboring open string, an octave higher. The neighboring unbowed and untouched string jumps, quivers and sings prompted by the string beside it playing its note.

To me this seemed like an incredible dance with physical space between partners who ache to be close but maintain the space between, opting for a deeper more sacred connectedness that transcends the physical. I know there’s an actual complex scientific explanation behind it. But I prefer the dance.

A perfect understanding, an authentic knowing between the strings was happening (two  inanimate objects!) and I was so much in awe, my brain still can’t fully wrap itself around it.

Call it a dance. Or a duet. A yearning. Or a celebration of being known. The two strings stretch, reach and bend, throwing their arms out for each other, and swaying together in such a way that the sound is so unbelievably rich you can feel the vibrations roll out as waves into the air.

As the violin reverberates in this special moment between the strings, and its warm rhythmic waves swell right through my skin and crescendo deep into me, it’s as if I and the violin are one. And that is how you know you’ve done it. Because you feel it.

And let me tell you, sympathetic vibrations feel amazing.

I feel them inside my bones. Inside where the marrow lives. Not metaphorically. I literally feel the vibrations in my bones. My chest hums with heat and sound waves. The music weaves itself in waves all the way through me down to my heels and into the floor beneath my feet. And I wonder if the person standing next to me can feel it too.

Letting go of the clutter of the song that I am not yet qualified to carry and focusing on the simple core, reaps an actual physical reward. And this is nothing short of incredible.

In slowing down, I reached a new level in this relationship with my violin. I feel absolutely connected to it—physical, emotional, spiritual connectedness. Rich, honest, deep and raw. It’s a part of me now.

It literally lives inside my bones.

This is a simple sacred groundedness, without all the clutter of fancy slides and frills. Just the slow liquid pulsing reverberations of the basic melody. In letting go of the clutter I had piled on the song, I see the actual song. Not the song as I wish it to be or the song from the perspective of various artists, or the song through my striving too hard beyond what my current capabilities are, but the song as it actually is on its own terms. And it is beautiful. And it is strong. And it is holy.

I have entered the story and am paying attention. I’m right there walking through the Scottish countryside at night with Tom Anderson, watching the lights of the dwindling village go out one by one, until the only light left comes from the stars that are twinkling overhead.

These strings are becoming rooted in me and I in them. In our slower pace together, we experienced a perfect understanding—the strings and I.

May it be so in every part of my life.

May I let go of the clutter that distracts and pulls me away from the core. May I never forget the simple sacred center. May I rest in that place amidst the swirling chaos life leads me into. May I live into simple goodness when all the voices pile on and beckon and pressure me. May I slow my pace and keep my eyes open.

Friends, as we approach the bustling holiday season, I invite you to pause. Slow down. Breathe. Go deeper. Celebrate the simple. May you open your eyes to what is right in front of you and be fully present with it– without constantly looking for the fast lanes or the shortcuts to bigger, better and more. Because the simple thing right in front of you might be a thing more beautiful than you had ever realized.

 

My Social Media Funeral Song

In these first days of sifting, the social media fast is proving to be hard. Really hard. Hard like when you were a kid riding your Schwinn and you took a bad spill on the sidewalk. The kind of hard that hurts, but hopefully doesn’t leave a scar.

I’m going to be honest with you here. The anxiety was high as I deleted the Facebook app off my phone on Friday, at 5:00 p.m. High as in, I had to sit down for a second and the room spun and I felt all hot and troubled inside. Symptoms of withdraw from a gripping addiction I didn’t realize was there. I wanted to cry a little. Chewed my nails down to bits. My heart was definitely fluttering at an accelerated rate and my chest tightened and squeezed my panicky lungs.

I knew this would be hard. I did. But I did not expect to have actual physical symptoms.

Not thirty minutes after deleting my social media apps, the first very desperate urge came to pick the phone up and… just check. If I do it fast it doesn’t count, I decided. So I grabbed my phone, swept my thumb across the screen and to my horror, the FB app was gone. I had already forgotten that I had deleted the app only thirty minutes earlier. Must have been so traumatic that I blocked out the memory. Or this swipe had become such a ritualistic rhythm within my day that it had become something I did without thinking. Like breathing.

Desperate for something physical to fill this new uncomfortable void, I picked up my violin. The violin I have wanted to play since I was eight years old. The violin that was denied me in fourth grade because I was “a good fit for the cello,”and so I joined choir instead. The violin that has forever eluded me.

I picked up that violin in the absence of my phone. One month ago I began taking lessons as a means to satisfy my childhood hunger, but practice time has been hard to secure with so many distractions. Time is a gift. A gift we too easily toss out unaware of its value. A gift we sometimes even say we want to “kill.” Imagine that.

I slid my bow slowly across the strings and turned out something deep and mournful. And let’s be real, it was mournful in another way for everyone in the house because I’m still a bit of a squeaker on this thing, and I’m pretty sure it all sounds way better in my head than what’s actually rolling off the strings. But it felt really good. And in fact, I was feeling more and more good the more I played. The vibrations seemed connected to me, rooted in me, reaching down deep, giving voice to my insides in a way words could not.

This was my social media funeral song.

And then, right there in that moment, I just decided. Decided that this is going to be my thing. I am going to master this instrument. And so I exchanged silent vows with my violin. A commitment for daily one on one time with this new love of mine. During the scattered moments of space in my day, rather than reach for my phone, I’m going to secure this violin under my chin, lift my bow and make it come alive. And in the doing of this, some part of me will come alive too.

I’m going to become a Jedi of the strings. I’m telling you, I will do this. In some of the new space of my days, as the clutter is increasingly gone, there will be this beauty always beside me and within me and before me. Ever present, reminding me to make good on my promise and good on my time.

I suddenly want to know everything about the violin. It’s curves and hollow spots and vibrations. I want to be lured in on intimate terms, breathlessly tracing my fingers over its edges to endless discovery. I want to know its history and how it has come to be refined to the wondrous and whimsical instrument it is. I want to spin out silk ribbons of sound on this thing in a way that sends sweet warm tremors up and down everyone’s spine. I want even the plants in my house to feel it and sway and swoon and ache for it in their bones when it isn’t there.

In these first days of sifting, I have decided the violin is a thing worth giving a deeper piece of my time to. I have wanted to learn forever, but have never had the time. Some say I’m too old to take this on. Fiddlesticks. I will learn to knead this delicacy into expressing all the feels that move inside me, and it will be a lovely thing in the world. And it will be a lovely thing in me.

And now it has me wondering… what would happen if the whole world put their phones away and picked up an instrument instead? What would happen if we all laid down our hatred and divisions, our running and scrambling and maintaining that top inch of soil, our need to be the most right and to have the biggest closets and the very best cars and the most sensational everything all the time and to climb and climb and climb that ladder that ultimately leads to dust. Dust. What if we would let go of more of the dust and learn to make beautiful music instead? Music that could be drawn out from all our deep places and speak our truths and coalesce into a great global symphony?

I bet it would be pretty spectacular. I bet it would be really special. I bet even the soils of the earth would sing if everyone could find their thing and make it come alive.

What have you always wanted to give more time to? What makes you come alive?