Almost 10 years ago now, my friend Tsh Oxenreider met each other online, both bloggers with big questions, prayerfully seeking to live intentionally, mindfully. I’ve watched Tsh’s amazing journey of founding TheArtofSimple.net (previously Simple Mom), a community blog dedicated to the art and science of simple living, and devoured her books, Organized Simplicity and One Bite at a Time. Then I lingered long over the lines of her recent book, Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World… Tsh and I go a long way back; we resonate together in the deep places: Life is not an emergency — Life is a gift. Tsh shares absolutely essential words today on the the farm’s front porch:
When my family and I lived in Turkey a few years ago, we witnessed a pace of life we thought only existed half a century ago.
A neighbor invited us over to their home at 2 p.m. on a Sunday.
And before we could say “baklava,” we were all cramming into their car like clowns, headed for a tea house down on the Aegean Sea shoreline.
Our afternoon was spent lingering over hot çay, sugar cubes, laughing children, and words mangled somewhere between two languages, adults laughing as we attempted conversation like toddlers.
We practiced our Turkish with phrases like, “Yesterday I went to the store,” and “My brother has two children,” while they, ridiculously patient, would listen and reply with dictionary-worthy vocabulary plucked from memorization.
We would sip tea down by the water for hours, with no agenda, no rush to the next better thing, the red-fire sunset ablaze over Meditterraean waters.
Life was… slower. Savored.
It wasn’t perfect, of course.
There were many challenges to living cross-culturally, and a slower pace of life didn’t compensate for the complexities of hovering somewhere between a natively western worldview and eastern mores.
But still. It was fascinating, to experience life in the slow lane surrounded by electricity, subway systems, and florescent-lit grocery aisles.
It was indeed possible to live slower in the twenty-first century, so we learned. And it wasn’t just Turkey where we learned this; several years prior, when we met, my husband and I were both living as singles in war-torn Kosovo.
There, the roads were more potholed than paved, and we would store water in a barrel in our bathrooms for the days-long event when water from the faucet was inexplicably nil.
Life was slow there, too.
Fast-forward years later, and we’re well-immersed back in to our North American life. Smartphones were released sometime when we were abroad, so when we moved back I saw many loved ones’ tops of their heads for the first time.
People were absorbed in their handhelds, their heads, the four walls of their houses.
It had more or less been this way before we left, I knew, but I didn’t notice it until we returned from serving time in western exile.
Eyes freshly peeled, I saw there was a direct correlation between an obsession with self and an exhausting pace of life, even when that obsession was on good, churchly things.
Centering an entire day around productivity or effectiveness as a goal equaled very little focus on other people. On relationships.
Jesus, of course, poured Himself out as an offering. His world was slow, when He fully touched earth so that we could be wholly alive and whole with God.
He is the embodiment, the very manifestation of sacrifice—the giving of self for other people. His agenda wasn’t on getting things done. And as a follower of His, I want to be like that, too.
Because I want this so fervently – why is it so hard to shift my focus, my center, my default, to other people?
Why does it feel like a burning of my flesh and a rewiring of my brain to die to my to-do list in order to make time for people?
I wager it’s partly because in my default mode, I have no time for other people. I’m too busy.
Last night, I lay in bed next to my husband, suitcases packed for six weeks on the road starting the next day with our brood of children.
Ahead of us on the calendar are celebrations, meetings, gatherings, and family functions. Many good things, but Many Things for two introverts. And in the dark, I told him this: that in these next few months, I want to put relationships first.
Hearts before agendas.
Lives ahead of schedules. I want to die to my productivity so I can truly be with people.
It’s funny to me, that I can write an entire book about the significance and urgency of slowing down in order to live a life that matters, and yet I still have to remind myself this near-daily that slowing down matters.
It matters because then I can hear people. It’s absolutely essential, really.
There is a direct correlation between being too busy and being about others—the more crammed our schedules, the less time we have to give others.
When we only allow nooks and crannies in our days for rest, time alone, and self-care, then we are left threadbare to love others when they most need it. When our calendars are scribbled out in the margins because they are too full, we have no way to empty ourselves out in sacrifice.
If we want to put others first, like Jesus? Then we must. slow. down. It’s the only way we as a Body can survive, thrive, be who we are meant to be in this rapid, rapid world.
My mind drifts frequently back to our life in the Middle East. Sure, my glasses are rose-colored, but what I remember most is how I felt. I felt… slower. More contemplative. More at rest with myself and those put purposely around me.
A dear friend and fellow expat American there said after several months of living in Turkey, “If someone were to look at my calendar, they would think I died six months ago.” There, we could equate our life’s measure not by boxes filled with pencil scratches, but by how much freedom in our days we had to linger over çay with neighbors. With people. In relationship.
I think a slow life can happen anywhere, in any culture.
But it’s harder, and it requires swimming upstream, when we live in one where the default setting is lightning fast.
And we have to be vigilantly aware of this so that our fingers continually twist the dial on our life to slower, slower, slower.
A slower-paced life isn’t just a good idea, or hip, or wishful thinking.
It’s essential if we want to have time to be the Body of Christ.
Part memoir, part travelogue, part practical guide, Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World takes you from a hillside in Kosovo to a Turkish high-rise to the congested city of Austin to a small town in Oregon. It chronicles schooling quandaries and dinnertime dilemmas, as well as entrepreneurial adventures and family excursions via plane, train, automobile, and blue cruiser bike.
Entertaining and compelling—but never shrill or dogmatic—Notes from a Blue Bike invites you to climb on your own bike, pay attention to who you are and what your family needs, and make some important choices.