Perspective is Everything During Lent

The high this week is forecast to be 78. What would be cool in the summer, this will be a record high for February in the Central Valley. It will feel warm, but what would a Minnesotan say, especially this month?

Perspective.

As I write this, Ash Wednesday begins the liturgical season of Lent, a time of fasting, repentance and almsgiving. The quiet and sobriety of Lent were once challenging, but now I rather like the memento mori, the time to remember that the days of our lives are passing. I believe there is something good on the other side of a life well-lived.

Perspective.

When my husband tilled the weed-filled zone that could be lawn, the absence of vegetation looked like potential, not barrenness.

With a six-week-old snuggled against me in a Moby Wrap, my nine-year-old daughter and I planted clover seeds in that zone. It felt like hard work with the sun beating down on us, sweat coming from our foreheads and my sides because Moby Wraps lack breathability. We were tired and thirsting after following directions to lightly rake the seeds into the soil. Sitting on the desk, enjoying grapefruit-flavored sparkling water, we talked about Little House on the Prairie and, to me, the work did not seem so bad. Feeling my daughter lean against me as she held a piece of ice in her mouth, savoring the flavor of a drink she rarely gets, it felt like no hard work at all.

Perspective.

Good times or hard times, they come; it is our perspective that dictates the lens through which interpret this story. “Begin with the end in mind” the saying goes.

If each experience is an opportunity for growth, that changes the tone of life’s challenges no matter how easy-going or painful they may be.

There are those times that are so overwhelming when so much of our bodies are demanded that our ability to process cognitively languishes, that we can lose perspective. The suffering, the sleep deprivation, the physical toll seems endless. What happens then?

Our mind continues to interpret through a lens, but we may not realize it. We do not hear it, because we do not stop to listen. There is too much noise, whether from too much crying, too many children’s voices, too many interruptions or too much social media. We try hard to dampen the silence with more noise because once we are unaccustomed to sitting, musing, being with our thoughts, letting them evolve, it is hard to know where to begin. The silence feels like an absence because it comes to us so rarely.

But silence is rich, like that field empty of plants. It is full of potential. There are seeds under the surface. There are the stubborn weeds determined to grow back. And there is space.

There is space for clover seeds.

There is space in silence for our next step, our understanding, our reflection.

That is the silence of Lent. That is the power of intermittent fasting. That is the breath of air that comes from a social media break.

How badly we need these experiences and how rarely they come in a country full of opportunities without making a deliberate choice.

The temperatures may be record-breaking and the ongoing need for rain is cause for concern, but I suspect the boom of heat will help those clover seeds grow. Very little in the natural world is black and white. Some good can come out of very bad things.

I sit here

beside my open window, listening to the cars swooshing by, feel the warmth pouring through my bedroom window and smell the scent of cedar and soil and springtime sun. Further in the house, a boy cries because he does not want to do his math. A baby cries to be held. A husband holds it all together so I can sit here and have this moment.

Were it not for the silence of this room, the view of the backyard, the time to pause and reflect, I might see things differently. In the middle if the night, feeding a newborn, I usually do. Perspective will not come by itself. And in the case of my lawn, neither will the clover.

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

What did I learn this year?

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Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

  1. A good book clears the head. Not so much the introspective books. They have their place, but an old novel with characters who have stood the test of time, been put on screen in a way that pleases no one because the depth of character is too difficult to grasp. At the end of my year, I gave my heart to the characters of Middlemarch and Little Women, though I have the wildness of Kristin Lavarnsdatter for getting me back to binge-reading, aka deep reading.
  2. When I ask myself, “how do I want my day to look?” I realize it does not involve social media. I still check Facebook a ridiculous number of times each day, but I rarely post or comment now. Scrolling is a sign of something wrong in my life, not right. And even though I know an online presence will one day be important to my path to getting a book published, I rather hope it takes long enough that likes, clicks and my email list will not determine the potential of my work in the eyes of a publisher, not that I’m saying I will wait that long.
  3. Exercise is essential. I feel like garbage otherwise. I might think I look like garbage and though I try to avoid self-deprecating comments I cannot own that I have not had self-deprecating thoughts. But more than looks, it helps my back not hurt so bad (by using the muscles) and energizes me all around.
  4. I actually do need alone time. I am a flaming extrovert so it comes as a surprise to me and my uber-introverted husband that after a long day at home with the kids, I want to be in the bedroom with the door shut to, ahem, clear my head and read a book.
  5. Writing has become the sign that everything is right in my world. If I am not writing, I am not being introspective. If I am not writing, I am not engaging in the world of beauty and word-craft that, as my counselor says, make my spirit sing. I have the great joy of being a published columnist and newspaperwoman (regular pay!). When I run away from writing, I have found I am running away from myself.
  6. When I get used to a good thing, it is easy to forget to savor it. After four months at home, the blessed moments with my children began to pass me by. Whether I was exhausted and retreating to online articles and podcasts or whether I was energetic and Christmas decorating, I need to stop and savor my time with my children…and hot chocolate.
  7. Artists inspire artists. Whether it is a matter of hearing that other artists bear similar burdens or inspiring each other in our craft, it has been good to meet with other artists and grow.
  8. It is okay to be a sad person, as long as I can still be a kind person. I believe in manners so much more now. Maybe it was the sadness that made me more deliberate in my speech. Maybe the sadness just made me appreciate people more. Whatever it is, I find my relationships are fuller and better now. Acts of kindness fill my heart and I am deeply grateful for the people who perform them. I try to be gracious and kind in return, and even when no specific act is rendered.
  9. Sunshine and candlelight do a lot for improving my mood. I always believed environment was important, that in between decorating has a world of value even it does not fulfill the final plan. Cabinets you hate are a lot to look at for years. Beauty is life-giving. God is the superlative beauty. Exposure to beauty opens up Heaven and God’s glory to me in the small way that beautiful created things reflect their Creator. And when that happens, I am closer than ever to my daughter.
  10. I know what I need to cope whether at home or far from home…and it doesn’t involve alcohol. The trick is in recognizing when the moment is one that calls for coping, instead of allowing the moment to wash me away. The ingredients are the same: reading, writing, exercise, art or craft, quiet and, at other times, friendship. I can now say I have habits built around home and away, created through crisis, which I can access when I no longer have what it takes to handle the day.