Doves on the Deck

Doves on the Deck — Contemplative Photography

I expected that a Lenten Fast would give me a time to rest. I craved a less active, more contemplative, life.

Did I get it?

Well, yes.

What improved?

  • Exercise. At least an hour/day of stretching, weights, walking, yoga, and even a little jogging. I feel stronger and leaner, especially when I wear Spandex biking pants. 🙂
  • Food. I ate mostly plant foods and avoided sugar successfully — except for a mindless bite of my granddaughter’s pancake.
  • Reading. Most of my Facebook and Twitter time went into books, about ten of them.
  • I kept a daily journal except when I was traveling. I posted one picture a day on Instagram in order to keep a visual record also.

Seven Lessons from a Facebook/Twitter Sabbatical


1. Everything is connected to everything else.

The worldwide WEB is well named! Unless you go to a desert island, or unplug from the grid (or at least from your computer and smart phone), you can’t escape the omnipresence of social media. People tag you on posts, notifications come into email, etc. I didn’t initiate updates, and I stayed away from my news feed but I could not avoid minimal contact.

2.  Relationships form webs also.

Even though my life during Lent became more contemplative, I still could not evade the feeling of “busy-ness.” I gave two book talks, two radio interviews and one Skype interview, revised a book chapter, spent three days of vacation in New York City, traveled also to Illinois to celebrate the wedding of a dear friend, and made other stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania. I also spent a day at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

For two weeks of the seven, I helped take care of grandchildren in New Jersey. Stuart and I entertained numerous guests. And then 40 Hershey family members converged at my sister Sue’s farm in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, on Easter Sunday for a glorious celebration of faith, family, and food. On the way home, inspired by grandson Owen’s new-found love of rhyming, I wrote a children’s book called The Bear in There.

Family Hug on the Wooden Hill

Family Hug on the Wooden Hill

Each of these individual events was wonderful.

Overall, I recognize that Being and Doing are as intertwined as Facebook and email.

3. Life is paradox.

In the midst of contemplation, I got an exciting new idea for a new writing project. I felt that familiar “powerful pulsing of love in the veins,” a feeling I have known since childhood and now associate with all creative work. I have been buzzing with gratitude for the gift of inspiration, even if it comes to naught or goes into directions I can’t foresee.

The electrical feeling of touching God’s garment can never be dismissed. As long as I have it, I’ll never feel old. I’ll be working on this new idea for weeks or months before I can talk about it. For now, I just want to report that I wasn’t expecting it and that I’m enjoying it. By getting calmer, I also got more excited.

4. “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Okay, I stole this line from Anne Lamott, whose list of everything she’s learned in her 61 years on earth includes this great sentence. When in doubt, reboot! I unplugged for seven weeks, and now I’m turned on again.

5. The world around us is moving at warp speed.

The universe pays no attention when you unplug. It keeps moving at full speed. It takes a village of helpers when you choose to slow down even a little. For example, my husband kept me up to date occasionally on important news I would have seen on Facebook. Also my friend and fellow author Carol Bodensteiner took the lead in arranging publicity and interaction with our new adventure I Grew Up Country, a Facebook page for people who are sharing country stories, pictures, blog posts, etc.

6. Time is like a vacuum. It sucks up all available space.

You may recall that I said I wanted to be more passive? I love the word my spiritual ancestors used, Gelassenheit, which means submission to God, a condition of the soul necessary for true contemplation. I found it hard to keep space open and had to actively fight not to fill one form of busy-ness with another. So I was still active in order to be more passive (another paradox).

Which leads me to a question about self. Is it useless to try to bend the restless spirit? Can we submit in the midst of activity also, if we notice more of God’s gifts, feel more gratitude, and open ourselves to divine guidance? I believe the answer to this question is YES, and it is the one gift I hope to keep carrying into life beyond the sabbatical.

7. A feast tastes even better after a fast.

The Easter Dinner served at noon at my sister’s house was delicious. My first sugar in seven weeks? I enjoyed the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch sweet and sour dressing on cole slaw and kale salad (perfect complement to ham and cheesy potatoes). And then I had a Hershey Kiss, a tradition in our family you’ll recognize from reading Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

Hershey Kisses -- How I broke my sugar fast.

Hershey Kisses — How I broke my sugar fast.

Now, I’ve told you what I’ve been doing, thinking, and being. What about YOU? I MISSED YOU. I promise to respond and to visit your latest updates and posts to try to catch up. I’m a little starved for news. 🙂

Shirley Showalter


  1. Michael G. Cartwright on April 14, 2015 at 8:10 am

    Thanks, Shirley, for your post-Lenten reflections. Resurrexit! Over the past three months I have posted 52 blog entries at At some point I hope to have a conversation with you about the prospect of re-working some of those reflections into a book…

    • shirleyhs on April 14, 2015 at 11:12 am

      Wow, Michael, that’s amazing — 52 posts in three months! Wonderful! I just went to Fascinating project! I hope some of my other readers check it out. The idea of a multiple family memoir makes my head spin, but it also entices me. I’m always happy to talk with you. You can message me on FB now. : -)

      So excited that you are taking up this challenge. I know you will learn so much from it.


  2. melodie davis on April 14, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Shirley, glad you had a spark, or two, of inspiration, and the accompanying pulsing excitement. Thanks for these learnings, and for pointing to Anne Lamott’s FB post. Good stuff! AND glad you are back!

    • shirleyhs on April 14, 2015 at 11:13 am

      Thanks, Melodie. I enjoyed your post about the sisters in the hen house. Made me laugh and gasp at the same time.

      Glad to be back and to be able to follow your adventures again.

  3. Janet Givens on April 14, 2015 at 9:03 am

    Good morning from the sun porch on Chincoteague Island, Shirley. My biggest change is I’ve unplugged from my weekly blog. I miss it, which is good to know, but had to focus on the technical parts of getting my book back live. I’m almost there. I tell the story in my last post. You were, of course, an inspiration. I love your list of lessons. Needlepoints all! I shall return.

    • shirleyhs on April 14, 2015 at 11:17 am

      I have a very vivid picture of you in Chincoteague, Janet. You must take ownership of the inspiration behind the sabbatical ideas birthed in your beautiful space.

      Glad to know you have almost finished the work on your book. Are you a Scrivener expert yet? I purchased the package of lessons and haven’t done one of them yet! I guess I need another sabbatical. Ha!

      Let us know when you are back up and blogging again.

      And take a walk on the beach for me.

  4. Linda on April 14, 2015 at 9:13 am

    I really enjoy your Magical Memoir Moments! I’m grateful for the e-connection that led to me ‘getting to know you’. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll meet in person. These days, I’m anticipating the release date of Hutterite Dairies; I’m sure you know the feeling. (:

  5. Chin Oh on April 14, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Shirley, welcome back! I love reading about your lessons learned and to hear that you are well even without sugar. 🙂 I will be unplugging soon as the kids and I travel Asia to explore South Korea and visit their grandparents in Malaysia for the entire summer. Can you imagine me without golf? Well…me either and I can’t wait to find out and let you know. LOL

    I missed you! Take care and look forward to your next adventure.

    • shirleyhs on April 14, 2015 at 11:22 am

      Chin! So good to see you here.

      And no, I can’t imagine you without golf.

      I hope you will use FB as a way to share that amazing summer adventure with your friends. You are my link to Malaysia and that whole region of the world. I love learning from you.

      Big hugs to Sydney and Aaron! Oh yes, and Chris too. 🙂

  6. Joan on April 14, 2015 at 9:26 am

    When we give ourselves time, it’s amazing what happens. I’m so glad you’ve found a new inspiring idea and I’m anxious to hear about it as it unfolds.

    I learned a lot as well and am still putting it all together. I think it’s time for a visit!

    • shirleyhs on April 14, 2015 at 11:24 am

      Joan, my sabbatical sister, so good to connect again.

      Yes, we do need to meet up in person also.

      And I’m eager to read your own “lessons” from time away.


  7. Laurie Buchanan on April 14, 2015 at 9:31 am

    Shirley — Welcome back, I missed you. I enjoyed your return post this morning while drinking a hot cup of tea. So much so, I poured another cup and read it again. I’m going to print it and take time contemplate each of your learnings.

    Two of the most exciting things I read about are THE BEAR IN THERE (way to go!), and the new project you can’t share just yet — I can feel your enthusiasm shimmering through my laptop screen!

    Len, Willa, and I are fat and sassy as ever. Our most exciting news is that our son, Evan, is coming to visit us for a week in June — Woohoo!

    • shirleyhs on April 14, 2015 at 11:28 am

      Woohoo! Connecting with family really can’t be topped on the excitement meter, can it?

      I’m honored that you paid close attention to my reflections. You have a talent for noticing.

      The Bear in There was so much fun to do. I found photos from our last two visits and then made up verses to go with them. A lot of the rhymes we had already thought up together over the dinner table.

      I always looked forward to your Tuesday posts and decided that I could hit the Twitter share button without violating the spirit of my sabbatical. 🙂

  8. Marian Beaman on April 14, 2015 at 9:34 am

    I knew you wouldn’t hibernate or even play Thoreau on Walden Pond. Instead, your life (unplugged?) opened the locks in other channels, diverting your amazing store of energy elsewhere. When Cliff (not by choice but because of the economic downtown had fewer shows about 8 years ago) he had to put his energy somewhere and wrote a children’s book. The creative spirit can’t be suppressed or lie dormant, I conclude.

    My guess is that you will discuss the books you have read in future posts. I wonder if Then Again was one of them.

    My favorite line here: The electrical feeling of touching God’s garment can never be dismissed. As long as I have it, I’ll never feel old. Cheers to timeless (and ageless) men and women everywhere, including you!

  9. Wanda S. Maxey on April 14, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Hi Shirley,

    Welcome back, it sounds like you had a wonderful time. I always enjoy reading your posts, especially after reading your book, Blush:

    Wanda S.

  10. Dora Dueck on April 14, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Love this list, because it feels so real, about how life is. Also happy that in the quiet, you found your project. The best reason ever for creators to “get away”.

    • shirleyhs on April 14, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Yes, Dora. You know.

      Thank you!

      And all best on your own creative ventures. They always inspire me.

  11. Elfrieda Schroeder on April 14, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Thanks for the Anne Lamott line, I love her writing. Glad to see you back in circulation, I can feel the energy pulsing! It’s obvious from the photo that your grandkids love you to bits.

  12. shirleyhs on April 14, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Ah, Elfrieda, you know how to hit my tender spot. Thanks so much for all these observations. I’m 5.8 years older than Anne Lamott, which is just enough to make me feel instant recognition in everything she writes.

    And a lot of that pulsing energy I get from being hugged like that as often as possible. There’s a Bear in There!

  13. Kathleen Pooler on April 14, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Shirley, your re-cap is a feast of richness and creativity! All those creative ideas bubbled up when you gave yourself this gift of time, solitude and meditation. You asked about similarities and differences. Our sabbaticals were similar in the slowing down and reconnecting with self–journaling, prayer, family time. I too completed several creative projects- a newsletter, a keynote speech, a speech to a nursing group. But my writing (memoir #2 and magazine article) seemed to be at a standstill as I sat back and let it flow rather than frantically trying to keep up with my to-do list.But the good news is I’m ready to jump back in as you are, only this time feeling refreshed and renewed. Your lessons are treasures. I especially like Annie LaMott’s quote. Thanks you for sharing and , as always, inspiring.

    • shirleyhs on April 15, 2015 at 11:18 am

      Thanks, Kathy. It’s interesting that neither of us did a lot of new writing but gave ourselves leisure to think about it. You’ll notice that “the box in the basement” still sits there. I think it will mostly fuel new Magical Memoir Moments and blog posts. But I’ll be experimenting, along with you.

      Thanks for sharing here, Sabbatical Sister.


  14. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on April 14, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Even though you were somewhat unplugged, I felt a connection with you all during Lent. I feel it often when I hear a train whistle. (because you and Stuart once visited me by train).

    During Lent I took my own train ride, to the other side of California, to Fresno Pacific University, for the Mennonites Writing gathering, #7.

    I really enjoyed the whole event. I met lots of new people, including my roommate, from Seminole, Texas, who presented “Darp Mechanics and Flower Women: Poems of Old Colony Mennonite Experience in Mexico.”

    Many of the papers were scholarly in approach. My genre was memoir, entitled “A Body That Lives.” I was grouped in a session called “Negotiating Bodies,” and my two partners presented on “Sweat and Sinful Longing: On Trying to Write my Gay, Gluten-Poisoned Mixed Up Mennonite Body” AND “Transformation of the Patient–and the Physician–Through Poetry.”

    I’m still pulsing from the excitement of sharing face to face and being with other Mennonite writers.

    I also love your line about the electricity in touching the hem of G’d’s garment.

    Welcome back to this way of being connected. I appreciate your knack for honoring the slow and laborious ways of relating.

    • shirleyhs on April 15, 2015 at 12:36 pm

      Dolores, so happy that you were able to go to Fresno Pacific for the Mennonite Writer/s Conference. You are drawn to writers and writing for a reason. I’m sure that reason is becoming ever clearer to you. Did you present a paper on “The Body that Lives”?

      Thanks for the report. I was sorry to miss this event, especially since memoir seems to be getting more attention.

      I have always loved train whistles. They suggest adventure and romance to me, and now bring back memories of our great trip, including our visit with you and David.

    • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on April 16, 2015 at 6:21 pm

      Thank you for your prophetic observation about my attraction to writer(s) (ing).

      Yes, I presented a ten minute piece on “A Body that lives.” It ended up being about my mother and Hymn #1 in Hymnal: A Worship Book, even though I originally had something else in mind.

  15. Sherrey Meyer on April 14, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Shirley, I feel as though I’ve been feasting as I read your words and imagined you in each situation you described. I love that your creativity was still active while you tried to be passive, but as you so well speak to, we often can’t separate our soul into those two halves. If we are creatives, we cannot abide not creating. Bob went through a similar experience as the one Marian describes in Cliff’s life. We are human.

    I’m so glad our community is back, but I’m also grateful for the time spent in reflection, engaging in other ways, and anticipating our returns.

    • shirleyhs on April 15, 2015 at 12:39 pm

      Another Sabbatical Sister! Thanks, Sherrey, for these encouraging, understanding words. It’s really fun to compare notes and to recognize similar themes in our reports from life in the Slow(er) Lane.

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope others here will check out your report also.

  16. Kathleen Friesen on April 14, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    I’m so happy to join the many friends in welcoming you back. I am smiling that you wrote a story about a bear during this sabbatical. It seems appropriate that a symbol of the soul’s hibernation, gestation, and emergence with new life be a part of this experience. There is so much love and grace in your story and photographs. My heart is warmed.

    Like others, I appreciated the Anne Lamont quote. 🙂

    Blessings for the journey ahead,

    • shirleyhs on April 15, 2015 at 12:43 pm

      Kathleen, thanks for that connection between the bear and the sabbatical. I love it, and never thought of it myself. Hibernation makes a good metaphor. It isn’t a total disappearance but a fasting in the dark. Getting ready for something good.

      Thanks for letting me know about the broken link on my website. I think it’s fixed. Let me know if it isn’t.

      I always look forward to your posts and photos also!

  17. Saloma Furlong on April 14, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Shirley, it’s good to read what you’ve learned. I stopped eating sweets in February. Though I’m not abstaining completely anymore, neither am I eating as much of it as I used to, simply because I don’t crave it as much.

    During your sabbatical, did you crave social media and sweets the whole time, or did you find by not feeding the cravings, they abated? Now that you are returning to sweets and social media, will you go back to the way you were before the sabbatical, or has something shifted?

    So glad to hear of your inspiration. I recently used the line, “When we feel called to do ‘life work,’ we don’t have a choice.”

    The joy you share with your grandchildren is beautiful.

    • shirleyhs on April 15, 2015 at 12:49 pm

      Saloma, thanks for this question. I devoted one of the Magical Memoir Moments to the question of sugar craving. I was surprised at how relatively easy it was to give up sugar. The reason? I’d already eliminated desserts and processed foods except for special occasions. So it wasn’t like the old days when every meal ended in pudding, pie, cake, or cookies. Can you relate??

      I was also surprised at how little I missed going to news feeds. And I was really grateful for the sabbatical from blogging! After 6.5 years of writing an essay every week, I was ready for a rest.

      It remains to be seen how my social media practices will or won’t change in the future. For now, I am really eager to connect with friends (as in these comments) both on my blog and theirs.

      Thanks for your good questions, as always!

  18. Tracy Lee Karner on April 14, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Welcome back!

    I’m glad this time was rejuvenating for you. I enjoyed being “unplugged” so much, I want to make it a yearly practice.

    Your “Doves on the Deck” is now one of my favorite photos–ever! I love it! The zigzag of the deck contrasted with the quietude of the rural setting; it seems to capture entirely the feeling of your sabbatical! (A picture does paint a thousand words!) Perfectly sublime!

    • shirleyhs on April 15, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      Thanks, Tracy. I chose that photo, out of the 40 or so I posted on Instagram, because it speaks of Lent to me. The colors are dull, the birds are captured in the moment before flight, and (as you point out) the lines are full of energy in contrast to the hibernating landscape. Thanks for that comment. You helped me NOTICE even more (my word for 2015).

      And I may just join you, Sabbatical Sister, in making this fast a Lenten habit. Thanks for your commitment to your own rhythm.

  19. April Yamasaki on April 15, 2015 at 1:18 am

    It’s a pleasure to welcome you back, Shirley! Although hmmm, I did see some activity from you on Facebook and Twitter during Lent, so wondered if you had made some exceptions or pre-scheduled a few things? I appreciate reading about what you’ve learned and look forward to how life unfolds for you now. Blessings to you!

    • shirleyhs on April 15, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      I’m smiling, April. Yes, as point #1 above makes clear, I was not a purist. I sent out Magical Memoir Moments, which automatically post to Twitter, every week. I also read posts that come into my mailbox. My compromise was that I didn’t comment, but anything that took just one click, a “like” or a Tweet share, was a way to stay in touch without taking time. I don’t subscribe to many blogs, so that was manageable.

      I also did two posts on my author page. Facebook sent me numerous “you have 99 notifications” on my personal page which I ignored. However, the author page message was more threatening. “We noticed you haven’t been active . .. ” I decided to respond to the links they sent and to put up several MMMs there to make sure they didn’t stop sending my posts on that page to the 800 who were kind enough to l”like” the page.

      I could go into more detail, but that’s a little window into what my #1 learning above entailed.

      Thanks for the good wishes. You have mine also!

  20. April Yamasaki on April 15, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    I can imagine you smiling, Shirley! I can appreciate the connectedness, and how the very structure of social media makes it difficult to disengage. Thanks for this closer look behind the scenes.

  21. Suzi on April 16, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    Thank you Shirley I love what you wrote.

    “I felt that familiar “powerful pulsing of love in the veins,” a feeling I have known since childhood and now associate with all creative work. I have been buzzing with gratitude for the gift of inspiration, even if it comes to naught or goes into directions I can’t foresee.

    The electrical feeling of touching God’s garment can never be dismissed. As long as I have it, I’ll never feel old.”

  22. shirleyhs on April 17, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Thank you, Suzi. It takes one to know one. Browsing on your site, it looks like we have a lot in common.

    Hope we can stay connected.

  23. Elaine Mansfield on April 18, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Beautiful, Shirley. You did it in your own enthusiastic way. The all or nothing approach is overrated. The first photograph of doves is stunning.

    I’m focused on better exercise. My long daily exercise habit wobbled this past winter with a dog who had surgery and was housebound plus the seemingly endless cold. Feels good to be back on track with short brisk morning and longer evening walks. The extroverted whirl of book promotion hsettled into a more reasonable pace this spring. I write more and this makes me very happy. I’m waiting to see if there is a new book in here, but until then I’ve had a few article accepted and if they’re rejected or ignored, I submit elsewhere and don’t get discouraged.

    Nice to have you back.

  24. shirleyhs on April 18, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    Hi, Elaine, it’s great to be in touch again.

    Glad to know you have been able to get out and enjoy long and brisk walks again.

    I love your attitude toward sending your articles in to possible publishers. You let them go and wish them well on their journey, helping them find another possible home if one doesn’t work out. There’d be a lot less anxiety in the world if all of us could be that detached from outcomes and invested in the process.

    Thanks for stopping by. Happy wandering!

    • Elaine Mansfield on April 18, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      That’s the ideal and I fight for it every time I submit something. I remember the first time I got an article rejection around 1995. I didn’t submit anything again for a few years. I still hate rejections and no response at all feels lousy and rude, especially if they’ve requested submission after a query. I submit to places that feel likely and impossible places like the Sun. If I don’t try, I’ll never know.

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