A few weeks ago, I spent several days with a group of teenage girls (and some brave adults) taking part in an experience known as Chrysalis.
The four-day faith-based retreat, in the works since February, meant I would not only step away from the newspapers (and Delaware County) for a period of time, it also meant (gasp) I would taken one additional - drastic in my mind - step.
I would shut my phone off.
Ok, actually, once the retreat started, my phone was placed in a controlled room on silent. It was sequestered tighter than the strictest jury pool, along with my laptop, iPad and camera.
While other adult leaders used (and needed) their phones, I decided (with some ah hem, encouragement from a good friend) to fast from all electronic devices for the four-day period.
My thoughts, and how I phrased it on my auto-email reply, was if the girls were asked to give up their phones, I too, should do the same. What was good for the goose was good for the gander.
I’ll admit, I kept my phone as long as possible. But then, the moment of truth came. The retreat began and I gave up the phone.
The first evening was like a socially awkward middle school dance. Those uncomfortable spaces I usually filled with Facebook, Instagram, an Angry Birds game (or two), remained empty.
Yes, even in my "people person” job, sometimes being in a crowded room is painful. It’s amazing how my devices become an electronic shield, blocking me from having to interact and engage with others.
With out my cloak of protection, I found myself stepping out and (gasp) actually talking to people. Ok, I’ll admit it now, it was painful, yet the screen-free time meant ice was broken and relationships begin to form.
I wish I could say I was perfect. But giving up my phone was hard. There were moments I found myself reaching for my back pocket, as my brain experienced “phantom vibrations.”
At least twice, I found myself struggling to find a specific Bible verse in my Bible - you, know the print version rather than my handy, dandy, searchable app. I've become so dependent upon electronic things, memorizing something as simple as a Bible verse has become difficult.
I got caught (busted would be more like it) at least twice, trying to break my phone out of jail to call the Lawman. My friends lovingly reminded me the phone messages, texts, emails and even phone calls to loved ones could wait. I was at the retreat for a bigger purpose.
The experience was a hard reminder of how entrenched I - we - have become into technology. Our phones go everywhere. We live and work within a 24-7-365 world. Always plugged in, ready to go at a moment's notice.
For better or for worse, technology has embedded into our lives in ways we could only imagine only a few short years ago. It has changed how we interact with our family and friends. It defines relationships.
I recognize now what a gift I found within those four days. I was given the opportunity to be in the moment, with two dozen girls and adults, talking, laughing and learning without electronic distraction.
Conversations took place. New friendships bloomed and existing relationships were strengthened. Life happened and it was good.
I wish I could say I came home changed. I still have my phone within arms reach most of the time. Let’s face it, technology is here, it’s a part of who we are, whether we like it or not.
What I did learn, however, is to give myself permission to unplug and recharge. Instead of filling empty moments with electronic clutter, to instead, find ways in the silence to nurture and restore my soul.
I came home renewed. It's amazing how the time rebooted my brain, and helped me find a new sense of purpose.
I also learned it takes a willing choice, to unplug. To replace the overwhelming screen fatigue that often accompanies the electronic overload with something that insteads nourishes my heart, mind and spirit.
It's not easy. Trust me, I get it. But the challenge for myself, and others, is to find a way to unplug. Recharge. Connect with loved ones. Be present.
Life has a way of slipping past us at supersonic speeds. Don't let the screens rob you from a chance to make a memory that lasts a lifetime.
Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller is the managing editor of The Grove Sun and Delaware County Journal. Have an idea for a column or story? She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 918-786-2228.