May She Rest in Peace

I really love the way the sunset looks from the window of an airplane. It’s so vast and awe-inspiring and beautiful. And I got to see it on the way home from Pennsylvania last Sunday.

The circumstances surrounding my travel to PA weren’t great, and as we took off, speeding back towards Atlanta, I felt like crying for what is lost. But as I reflected on the weekend and all that it meant to me, I eventually found myself filled to the brim with gratitude and even peace as I gazed out the window at the colors painted across the sky.

The Lehigh Valley area is just so nostalgic to me. Being back there makes the nostalgia so vivid – highlighting the stark contrast of my treasured memories against the cold fact that I’ll never hear grandpa’s laugh again and grandma can’t live forever.

And so, I did my best to be present in every moment, soaking it all up. I wandered and explored the streets of Easton – a place that is now equal parts familiar and foreign. Husband and I found grandma and grandpa’s old place in College Hill – a neighborhood oozing with charming stone houses, huge leafy trees and a sprawling park that I can still remember playing in as a kid some 25-30 years ago.

“Was the front door the same color?” Grandma asked, when we visited her later that night in the hospital. I never saw the front door of their old condo, and she couldn’t remember what color it was, except to say it was “a happy color.” As soon as my parents reminded me it was purple, I could picture it again.

I wasn’t sure I’d get to see grandma this time. She’d been admitted to the hospital, and her condition was unclear. But husband and I got to spend a delightful hour chatting with her, laughing with her and catching up. What a gift; and even now, despite the trauma grandpa’s death has caused her in the 5 years he’s been gone, she is still so much the same spunky, opinionated lady I’ve always known.

I know I’m lucky – I got some of her better moments.

And I know she thought we came all the way from Atlanta just to visit her, but the truth is we were also there for her eldest daughter, my aunt’s, funeral.

I didn’t know my aunt very well. I knew a little bit about her “colorful” past, and I have vague memories of her stopping in – never for very long – when we were at my grandparent’s lake house during the summer.

And after her funeral, after hearing the version of her that so many other people knew, I am sad that I didn’t know her better. Sad that her death will leave such a hole in so many lives.

But I’m glad to have a more complete picture of her now; a full spectrum of humanness – the good and the bad. And thrilled to have spent several hours with family that I rarelyIMG_7306 get the privilege of spending time with. More blessings.

And out of my sadness over a non-existent relationship with one of my aunts comes a chance to do it differently with the others. I hugged both remaining aunts a little tighter this time – one of which I am much closer to than the other.

That other aunt, the one I’m not as close to – she lived with the aunt that just passed away. And this weekend, we exchanged numbers. So I hope, when the time comes for her to leave this earth, I will not be sitting at her funeral learning all the best things about her for the first time. I hope I will know them first hand.

Out of sadness comes love and hope and gratitude and out of mistakes, second chances.

RIP, aunt Liz…and so much love to the rest of my wonderfully messy, charismatic, fun, and loving family. ❤

What Shall We Eat? Part 5: Resources & Conclusions

Thanks for sticking around long enough to get to this last post! My goal in this was mostly to share my journey, but also to encourage others to embark on their own. Hopefully some of these resources I used along the way will help you, too.

After opening my mind to the possibility that eating meat does not, in fact, align with my values, and taking the time to do my own research, I ultimately feel confident that there exists a thoughtful, spiritual and humane way to eat meat. Husband and I initially decided to eat less, better quality meat than we used to; for us, this felt like the right place to start. We care about the environment, we care about animals, and we care about nourishing our bodies and taking good care of them.

So this begs the question: how do we do this?

Based on everything I’ve learned, I believe the answer lies in buying the highest quality local food you can find. And at the very least – making choices to eat “less than ideal” foods minimally and with awareness of what you are contributing to when you do.

One of the first places I started was a website mentioned in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Eat Wild. The site is organized by state and lists local farms, what they produce, some information about the farms and how to contact them. I was surprised how many there were, and how accessible they were (many will ship, some will not). This was by no means an exhaustive list, either. Atlantans: you have options. Lots of them.

Alternatively, be on the lookout for local farmer’s markets. Many cities have them every

marietta square farmers market
Borrowed from mariettasquarefarmersmarket.com

weekend (we love the Marietta Square Farmer’s Market!) and the big ones have websites that list their suppliers. This is also a great way to learn about farms in your area, read about their philosophies, and even visit/buy directly from the farm.

Husband and I tried to do this one Saturday – we drove to a farm in Powder Springs, GA – about a 30 minute drive from our house. Unfortunately, it was less a farm and more an abandoned shack that could easily be the set for a horror flick. Oh well; we’ll try again with a bigger, better-known farm some time!

I also stumbled upon a service in Atlanta called Garnish & Gather. It’s very similar to meal delivery services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh – which both use high qualityhello fresh veggie ingredients (Husband and I are currently using Hello Fresh for 3 Vegetarian meals per week). Each week, Garnish & Gather has a menu of 5 or so meals. All ingredients to make each meal come from local or regional farms. You select which meals you want, how many people you’re feeding, and you can either pay to have all the items delivered, or you can pick them up at one of several Metro Atlanta locations. You can even grocery shop and pick up those items along with your meals! They also have all suppliers listed on their website – again, another resource to find local farmers. We haven’t tried this service yet; I have actually been moving farther and farther away from eating meat.

There is also a meal-delivery service called Purple Carrot that is 100% vegan. While I’m not necessarily advocating meal delivery services for everyone, I have found our vegetarian boxes from Hello Fresh very educational! Meaning, I’ve learned a lot of new techniques and new combinations of satisfying dishes without meat. Part of me wants to try Purple Carrot for the same reason – to try and learn how to make tasty vegan dishes!

Aside from our 3 Hello Fresh vegetarian meals per week, we are currently doing most of our grocery shopping at Harry’s or Whole Foods. What I love about shopping there (aside from the convenience) is the ability to buy local items as well as see information about the treatment of the animals that products come from.

What I’ve discovered is this: the harder it is to get information about where the product comes from or how the animals were treated, the more sure I am that I won’t like the answer. And while you’d think companies that treat animals humanely, don’t use antibiotics or don’t force their cows to eat grain would want consumers to know about it, labels can still be super confusing.

I found a website with some guides and resources to help decipher food labels and discern what in the world they mean. Does this take some effort? Yes. But I WANT to make every effort I can to understand what I am putting in my body.

As I plodded along in my research, I also discovered that as of August 2016, 35% of the chickens used by Chick Fil A are now raised with zero antibiotics. Their goal is to reach 100% by 2019. Encouraging more suppliers to raise chickens in an environment where they don’t need to be pumped full of antibiotics is at least a step in the right direction in my book.

In this age of overly-processed, industrialized food, it’s definitely tough to avoid all of it. And I’m OK with that for now because I’m still learning and changing. I said at the beginning of this series that I was not going to be rigid. Educated and thoughtful? Yes. Buy humane and local, to the best of my ability? Absolutely. Eat less meat, period? Yep – and I can honestly say I don’t miss meat during those meals at all.

In fact, I’ve actually lost my taste entirely for some meats. I’m not sure if this is just a phase or not, but I have close to zero interest in any meat that comes from cows or pigs these days. I still eat chicken from time to time, and I still eat fish regularly. But suddenly, those other meats just aren’t appealing anymore. And it didn’t happen overnight – I did not feel that way after my initial research.

As for other animal products, I still eat cheese and eggs, and I still use butter every now and then. I haven’t “banned” any products necessarily, but truthfully, a lot of it just doesn’t appeal to me anymore and I actually prefer vegan alternatives. The fun thing is, I still have SO many vegan options that I haven’t even tried yet!

Will I end up a vegan someday? I have no idea. But I can tell you that trying vegan versions of things is fun, I don’t miss meat, and I wouldn’t trade the knowledge I’ve gained for anything. I don’t want my food choices to hinder my health/nutrition, enjoyment of or satisfaction from eating, nor do I want to support abusive and cruel treatment of animals. This is still a journey, and I know I have more learning, growing and changing to do!

Ultimately, I want to glorify God by taking good care of the body He’s given me, and do my part to support the planet and animals He’s entrusted to our care.

And to simplify things for you, below is a list of the resources I found helpful*.

*Just remember to do your own research on some of the claims you’ll hear in these documentaries, specifically. I don’t think every resource I listed here is gospel truth – just that they all helped me in my journey and led me to ask MORE questions and do MORE research. Omnivore’s Dilemma and Intuitive Eating were the most helpful to me by a mile.

 

 

What Shall We Eat? Part 4: The Spiritual Aspect

I know that the spiritual aspect of this discussion won’t be “relevant” to everyone. However, my Christian faith informs my life so I must include it. Aside from just doing internet research, I wanted to see what the Bible said about some of this stuff. So, I started thinking about which well-known verses might apply, and looked up some verses specifically about food and animals.

Most Christians know we are told to treat our bodies as temples (1 Corinthians 6:19), and to be good stewards of the Lord’s provisions (1 Peter 4:10). I take this to mean health ought to matter to us and that we are to behave responsibly with the resources the Lord has provided to us. But what instruction is given as far as what we are to eat?

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? In Genesis, we read about what God has created forbible boy Adam and Eve (and everyone else!) for food.

Genesis 1:29 – Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food.

Genesis 9:1-4 – Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables. But you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.

These are pretty clear to me; God placed humans at the top of the food chain and it is not morally wrong to eat meat.

But that’s not the end of the story.  The below verses from 1 Corinthians are interesting in this context, too, especially since the examples Paul uses are about eating meat. Not necessarily as a commentary on “right” vs. “wrong”, but as a guide for how we are to navigate interactions with other people given our personal convictions about what to eat and what not to eat.

1 Corinthians 10:23-33 – You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. 24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.

25 So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

27 If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. 28 (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. 29 It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? 30 If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?

31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God.33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

There’s a lot to think about in these verses! First, there’s the concept that just because we are ALLOWED to do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. This makes me think of the health claims made against many animal products. Just because I’m allowed to eat steaks marbled with fat that come from cows eating corn on a feedlot doesn’t mean it’s beneficial for me. (If you have the inclination, read Daniel 1:8-16. In this passage, Daniel has been taken captive to Babylon and is being asked to eat a rich diet ordered by the king. He persuades the king to let him eat only vegetables and drink water. The end result is Daniel looking much healthier, stronger and vibrant than the men who consumed the king’s rich wine and meats.)

Perhaps the most important takeaway, though, is this idea of putting others above myself – and the motivation for that is to win others to the Lord by showing them HIS kindness and grace. The fact that Paul seems to place more emphasis on the person with a “sensitive conscience” is interesting, too. To me, this means if I’m eating dinner with a vegan, I’m not going to wave my bacon in her face and prattle on about how yummy it is. Because that’s rude and it offends her conscience. Does that mean I’m wrong for eating bacon and I can’t eat bacon? Of course not! Instead, try a little empathy. Accept that some people in the world just have a more sensitive conscience about the slaughter of animals.

Similar statements are made in Romans.

Romans 14:1-4 – Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.

No believer should be condemning another believer’s food choices. This one is a little harder for me, only because factory farming and the industrial food chain did not exist in biblical times! Yet at the heart of it is simply the notion that it’s not wrong to eat meat, nor is it wrong to choose not to eat meat.

What must be considered, in my opinion, is unnecessary cruelty. And the Bible does condemn cruelty towards animals as something only “wicked” people do.

Proverbs 12:10 says, “The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel.”

What I asked myself is this: Am I wicked if I am not inflicting the cruelty on the animal with my own hands (or machinery…<shudder>), but I’m eating and enjoying the product of that cruelty? I personally felt highly uncomfortable with the idea that I was contributing to the demand for such products.  I don’t think it’s wrong to eat animals, but I think it’s wrong to abuse them in order to get food. It’s also totally unnecessary and in many cases, unhealthy, to eat this way.

I want to acknowledge too that there are people who are more sensitive to this than I am; people that believe it’s cruel to kill animals for food, period. I respect those people, and I understand them. It’s uncomfortable to think about.

But because of my faith, I will not condemn the idea of eating meat entirely. I believe God designed our bodies to be able to consume and digest animal products, and the Bible clearly states that eating meat is OK, if you choose to. (Side note: yes, I am leaving out all the rules about what kinds of animals were considered clean vs. not in Old Testament times. That is an entirely different discussion that I don’t believe has as much relevance to this topic in post-resurrection times. But every time I read the rules about animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, I’m extra thankful for Jesus!)

I will, however, condemn factory farming until I’m blue in the face. We ought to have more respect for the living things around us. This is why I think it’s so important to consider what these creatures were MEANT to consume and digest. Feeding animals an unnatural diet and pumping them full of supplements and antibiotics to keep them alive is utterly disgusting to me (among many, many other common practices that I haven’t posted here). I don’t know what to classify it as, if not cruelty. I keep coming back to Proverbs 12:10.

 

What Shall We Eat? Part 3: The Physical Aspects

When you start researching Veganism and food chains, it doesn’t take long for your head to start spinning. What’s true and what’s not? It would seem that a claim based on a scientific study would be trustworthy, but if a pretty big claim is based on only one study with no corroborating evidence, then it’s definitely worth questioning.

Not to mention you can probably find SOME statistic to back up just about any claim you want to make. I’ve often been of the opinion that if you look hard enough for evidence to support something, you can probably find it. (Did I mention I’m a skeptic by nature?)

Anyway, as I delved into the research portion of my journey, it became clear that there were some physical aspects I’d need to grapple with. First, how does food physically affect human beings, and second, how does our eating food affect the food we’re eating – namely, the animals that lose their lives so that we may consume them.

Obviously, humans need the energy food provides in order to function. There are generally accepted “healthy” foods and “junk” foods. We all know we should be consuming more of the healthy food and less of the junk. (Although the definition of what’s good and bad continues to change! Remember when fat was the devil and EVERYTHING came out with a “fat free” version, which just meant there were more carbs and sugar instead? And then carbs were the devil, so you just shouldn’t eat them (but your body NEEDS carbs for energy otherwise it eats the protein in your muscles instead). And now we have to discern between “good fat” and “bad fat” and “good carbs” and “bad carbs”).

I honestly find this to be a difficult topic to tackle as only a sub-part of a larger blog post. That’s because how and what we eat in America is heavily, heavily influenced by our culture. We live in a culture that praises thin & fit (and doesn’t acknowledge health at sizes that may not fit into this “perfect” mold) – and there’s always room for improvement, no matter how thin and fit you actually are.  But our culture also praises expediency – if getting thin and fit is the cake, doing it quickly is the icing on top.

This obsession with calories and ease is supported by various industrial food processing organizations. We can buy 150 calorie snack packs of highly processed foods to “keep our waistlines in check.” And yet, as a country, we’re just getting fatter. We keep dieting and cutting calories and getting fatter. (Spoiler alert: diets don’t work long term. There’s LOTS of research to back that claim up! But this is a topic for another day.)

But we’ve lost something here. As a culture, we allow outside sources and forces tell us what, when and how much to eat. No longer do most of us look inward and actually listen to our unique bodies. “It’s noon, it’s time to eat lunch,” we say, without noticing if we’re actually hungry or not. “I am starving, but I only have 2 Weight Watchers Points left, so I’ll just ignore it,” we think, praising ourselves for “sticking to it.” We hear that the latest trend is to juice, or eat kale with every meal, or avoid all sugar at all costs – and we do it because it’s “healthy” and without checking in with our bodies to see what it is our bodies are actually craving or needing.

We’ve lost the ability to to discern when we’re hungry and when we’re satiated. We eat so fast that we don’t even have time to decide if the food actually tastes good. We eat what someone ELSE tells us is best for OUR bodies, or we binge on what we aren’t “supposed” to eat without stopping to think about how it will make us feel physically.

All this matters – and if you decide to start tuning out what everyone else tells you is right for your body, and listen to your own body, you might be surprised. It is at this point you can really decide how eating animal products makes you feel, physically. Do they taste great to you? Are they satisfying? Are there non-animal substitutes that you like just as much, or more?

One of the biggest “phases” of this journey for me has simply been experimentation. Vegan mayo is perfectly adequate for me to make tuna salad. Chipotle Seitan crumbles were yummier in tacos than ground beef to me. Almond milk in granola? YES! Almond milk yogurt? BARF. I wanted to know if I COULD cut out animal products, still feel satisfied, and still enjoy eating – because I believe in eating for pleasure, satisfaction AND health. So I say…listen to your body. And have fun experimenting – there are SO many options available these days.

While it’s important to consider how food tastes and makes you physically feel, we also must understand the physical reality for the animals we consume – and decide if we are OK with it. I confess I had NO idea what the “industrial” food chain really entails, and it’s absolutely horrifying. I’m not going to share overly graphic things here, but some knowledge of the industrial food chain – out of which comes the vast majority of animal products we consume – is necessary. For all of us. Here’s a snippet:

  • Around 6 months of age, beef cows go live on “feedlots” where they are forced to
    feedlot
    A typical feedlot, AKA: wasteland of excrement and corn and future steaks.

    eat an unnatural (for them) diet of corn and grain grown with fertilizers. They are fed this way because it’s the cheapest way to feed them, and because it produces coveted beef cuts marbled with fat and makes the cows fatter faster, thus ready for slaughter and sale sooner. Cows have a second, specialized stomach called a rumen that is designed to digest GRASS. Grain really screws up the rumen, so cows that are forced to eat grain are sick their entire lives. In order to stay alive, they need lots of supplements and antibiotics – which has caused the evolution of “superbugs” – bacteria that often affect humans (think E. Coli and MRSA) and are now resistant to normal levels and types of antibiotics.

  • Dairy cows only produce milk when pregnant; industrial operations artificially inseminate cows over and over again to keep them lactating. They are hooked up to milking machines that cause infections in their udders. Again, antibiotics are used, encouraging the development of superbugs.
  • Chickens are also fed an unnatural diet (and given antibiotics) in order to fatten them for slaughter sooner. Many of them live in cramped barns and they are often gaining weight much faster than their legs develop – meaning even if they have access to small outdoor spaces, their legs cannot support them to get there. Many of the same issues occur with hens that lay eggs – they are kept in confinement, fed unnatural diets, and made to produce as many eggs as possible.
  • Don’t get me started on pigs. I can’t even type some of the things they do to the piggies.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I learned about animal treatment.

I decided almost immediately that I had ZERO interest in supporting the industrial food chain in any way. As I said in an earlier post, though, it’s not easy to opt out of it entirely because in many cases it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to know where your food is coming from. (I suspect this is one reason people instantly go vegan after learning some of this stuff.)

Ok, so even if you reject the industrial food chain with all it’s horrific animal abuse (and it IS abuse – make NO mistake about that), where does that leave you? Some people consider the animal abuse and that’s enough to make them stop eating all animal products. Others (like me) wanted to understand other options.

Organic products are an option – but this doesn’t ensure humane treatment of animals. It only ensures that the animals aren’t being pumped full of antibiotics. An improvement, if you ask me, but not good enough.

Then, there are smaller, local organic options – and stores like Whole Foods that carry local items and products that are clearly marked as “humane” or “ethical.” But even this can be murky, because you aren’t always sure how THEY define humane and ethical.

In an ideal world, we’d still have knowledge of and respect for where our food comes from. In an ideal world where I am consuming meat, I’d LOVE to get meat from a farmer that I’ve met – either at a farmer’s market, or by visiting his/her farm.

Fresh, local, organic, humanely treated products make me feel the best, physically and mentally. I believe that is also the best way to consume animal products, if you’ve chosen to consume animal products. For me, it is important to eat this way as much as possible.

And don’t forget NOT to accept every claim you hear during your research! One of the documentaries we watched claimed that consuming red meat caused cardiovascular problems. However, there was no distinction between meat that came from cows who were fed an unnatural diet of corn and grain vs. grass-fed cows. And in fact, grass-fed beef has actually been shown to LOWER risk of heart disease. This is a typical example of a claim that might be “true” to some extent, but doesn’t tell the whole story. (And another example of the evils of industrial farming. They don’t feed cows grass partly because it takes too long for them to get “fat enough” – even though it’s killing people).

My eating habits have changed a lot, but I’m still a work in process. There’s more to mull over and consider, and it has taken months for me to get where I am now. I suspect I will continue to explore and evolve, and I think that’s good. One thing is for sure, though – I will NOT return to mindless eating, letting others dictate what is best for MY body, or blindly consuming things without at least considering where they came from and what they went through to get to me.

 

Why Minimalism?

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of spending some time with my Great Uncle Fred. Though I haven’t spent much time with him in my life, I can safely say he’s a hilarious wealth of stories, travels and a life very well lived. He also happens to read this blog from time to time, for which I am deeply honored!

When we were together at his son Brian’s lake house, he asked me why I want to live a minimalist lifestyle. I said, “Because it helps me focus on what really matters in life.” While this is a true and honest answer, I wish we would have had more time to talk about it. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that someone who isn’t a minimalist can’t focus on what’s important in life, although I think living minimally makes it easier.

I always want to make the disclaimer that minimalism means different things to different

minimalism-definition
Photo taken: The Stephanie Inn; Cannon Beach, OR

people and I believe it’s helpful to provide my definition of it before I can really flesh out it’s full appeal in my own life. I’d define minimalism as “The pursuit of simple living; keeping just enough possessions, things on my mind and things on my schedule to encourage living in and being thankful for each moment.”

Here are the reasons minimalism is attractive to me…perhaps loosely in order of least to most important.

1. Cleanliness and Order. I struggle with anxiety, people. One of the things that always makes me feel more calm is to be surrounded by clean, clear, open and well-organized spaces. I’ve always been a fairly neat/organized person, but as I began to get rid of physical possessions, I realized my time spent cleaning our house went down a good bit. Since I am the maid around here, that was highly appealing to me. The less crap I have to pick up to wipe down the surfaces in my home, the faster I can speed through cleaning. This is also one of the reasons I like the idea of a smaller home. The less time I spend cleaning these worldly possessions that cannot accompany me to the hereafter, the better, if you ask me. And of course, a less cluttered room = a calmer, more contented Sarah.

2. Financial Freedom. Most folks pursuing minimalism are highly motivated by this one. Interestingly, the more things I give away, the less I want to bring into my home. If something is not needed, or being used, I typically consider it unnecessary clutter. I don’t buy as much stuff now because I just don’t want more stuff; it doesn’t matter to me like it used to. Personally, I have found great blessing in wanting less vs. wanting more.  I would much rather use money for things that are more important and more in line with my values as a person – like helping others, traveling and experiences.

3. Rejecting Materialism. Our culture is constantly selling us the idea that we need more, newer, bigger, better things to be happy. Yet, some of the most destitute people in our world are the most content and some of the richest people in our world are the most miserable. I’m not implying that all rich people are miserable. Just that this notion that we’d all be more content if we were richer is a lie. I honestly did not know this deeply and in my soul until I started giving things away. It was only when I consciously decided to get rid of things that I realized how much I actually already had (and how little I really need). This sounds so silly and bratty to me now, but I never considered NOT following a trajectory of bigger and better; apartment to house to bigger house to even bigger house or reasonable car to nicer car to even nicer car. I never would have called myself materialistic before I minimized my belongings; materialism would not have been on a list of my values. And yet, I used to think and behave in a decidedly materialistic way. Minimalism reminds me not to go back to that way of thinking. It teaches me how much is enough for me – and I didn’t know what was “enough” until I gave a bunch of stuff away. I could still give more and not suffer in the least, and knowing that makes me overflow with humility and gratitude.

4. A Personal Response to Global Issues. One of the very first things that led me to pursue minimalism (although I didn’t know that word at the time) was a soul-gripping awareness of how we live here in America as compared to the rest of the world. I’ve always “known” we are mighty fortunate, but after fostering a more global awareness, it finally became real to me. I found myself feeling inauthentic and restless in the face of what others around the world must endure; from extreme poverty to persecution for faith in Jesus. I know I don’t deserve the wonderful life I’m blessed with; I know I “have it better” than so many people in the world. It feels wrong not to respond to that in some way. For me, there’s a fine line between feeling guilty for all God has blessed me with, and being humbly thankful for those blessings. It’s something I must be careful about because ultimately, I desire to live in the moment with a grateful heart. But as I’ve purged belongings, events from my schedule and thoughts from my mind, the clarity I’ve found always leads me back to both generosity and gratitude. I have come to view minimalism as a first step in thoughtfully responding to global issues in my own little ways. It encourages me to continue giving and asking myself and God how else I’m meant to respond.

5. My Faith. For me, this is most important reason to pursue minimalism. I have learned that when I pursue minimalism for calm surroundings, less financial burden, and a deliberate turn from the magnetic pull of materialism, it helps me keep an eternal perspective and see Jesus more clearly. When I begin to strip away my excess, I am more free to pursue the life He wants me to live – not focused on myself or on getting MORE. While we are never in complete control of how much God decides to bless us with monetary riches, we are ALWAYS in control of what we decide to do with whatever money we have. The Bible tells us to be good stewards of what we have (be wise financially!). It tells us to hold loosely to the things of this world and live with an eternal perspective (avoid materialism!). It tells us that the love of money (not money itself) is the root of all evil. It tells us that it is harder for a rich man to get into Heaven. My logic tells me that when I pine for bigger, better things, when I already have more than enough, I am both engaging the root of all evil, and I’m making it harder for myself to live for the Lord. In short – I believe minimalism is a way of living that helps me be consistent with the teachings in the Bible.

Does the minimalist lifestyle appeal to you? What is your own definition of minimalism, and why is it a worthy way to live (or not) in your opinion?

Comparison: The Joy Killer

Few things kill joy, rob us of peace, and promote self-centered-ness like comparing ourselves with others. What they have, what they look like, how they act…there are many areas in which we put others on a pedestal, wishing we “had it that good.”

At the heart of comparison are insecurity and an incorrect focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have.

The funny thing about comparison is that it’s entirely possible for us to banish it in one area of our lives, but allow it to fester, unrealized, in another. Sometimes, comparison becomes so natural that we’ve sized someone up, decided what that says about us, and either felt better or worse because of it – all before we even notice what we’re doing.

I used to struggle with discontent from comparing my “stuff” and possessions to others’ – wishing I had more, bigger or better. But now, I’m learning to hold things loosely and finding great freedom in wanting less rather than more. I’m still tempted to think I need more than I have sometimes. But I’m so grateful that possessions no longer have the power over me they once did.

The one area in which I cannot seem to stop comparing myself to others is my weight and

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Photo Taken: Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, GA

how I look. I think most women struggle with this at different times and in different ways. I’ve got a lot of scars from past experiences and my struggle is pretty constant in this area.

But let me drop some perspective on myself. (And maybe someone out there needs to do the same!) I am not sick, and I do not have injuries that render me unable to move or live life freely. I am not the weight or size I wish I was, but I work out 5-6 days a week and I do my best to eat well. I have made and met fitness goals. I continue to try new things (like scary road bike rides in the mountains!) and face fears because I can. What I need to train myself to do is focus on what my body can do rather than compare myself to skinnier people and wish I was different. If I must compare, let me compare myself to someone cannot do all the things I can do.

When I think about my body in this way, it makes all my complaining seem utterly ridiculous. Nevermind the fact that pretty much no one cares what I look like as much as I seem to! If there is someone out there who is critical of how I look, who really cares? Why do I care? God loves me and approves of me and He knows my heart; He knows that I want to take care of the body He’s given me. I have a fantastic husband who loves and respects me and tells me I’m beautiful every day. It’s only my own stubborn inability to give myself grace that pulls me downward into despair about my body.

What are the ways in which you’re most likely to compare yourself to others? Is it your weight? Is it how much money you have? Is it the kind of car you drive? Your job? Your abilities as a parent?

Let me just tell you: you are enough. As you are, right now, today. God loves you; your family and friends love you. Maybe it’s time for you to give you a little love, too.

If you’re overweight and wish you looked different, do what you can. Move, eat foods that will optimally fuel your body and celebrate what you are able to do. If you wish you had a nicer car, start focusing on the fact that you have a car that is getting you around. If you aren’t happy in your job, look for a new one, or think of ways to make the job you’re doing more meaningful and fulfilling to you. Mamas, don’t worry about being perfect or being anyone other than you: you’re doing great!

Comparison is the great joy-killer. Make an effort NOT to engage those comparative thoughts when they come; make a habit of turning them into something uplifting and positive. And whenever possible, turn your mind from your dark thoughts about yourself and reach out to help someone around you who is in need or just say some kind words to a friend. I guarantee you anyone you choose to show kindness to will appreciate it. Just don’t forget to be kind to yourself, too!

A Beautiful Glimpse of the Past

Four years ago, my grandfather passed away. Friday, a big group of us convened at his favorite place, Lake Wallenpaupack PA, and set his ashes free in the waters he loved.

I don’t see my extended family as much as I’d like. And ever since grandpa passed, it always feels a little weird to be around all of them without him. It’s been easier to feel a bit removed from the sadness of missing him since we don’t live close. (Though if I let myself, I’d probably still cry every time I thought about him!) Being in “his” place made that sadness come to the surface; bigger and more raw.

My grandfather was a BIG man. Not necessarily big in size, though he was tall, but big in personality. His booming laugh and bear hugs instantly made a room feel warm and full of life.  He was one of my absolute favorite people.

And my favorite childhood memories live at their lake house. For whatever reason, I felt the urge to write them all down – perhaps while I still remember them!

I don’t think I’ve ever lived closer than a 2 hour plane ride from my grandparents, but as a kid, I saw them at least once a year, usually around the 4th of July. We would all pile on my grandfathers boat with blankets and snacks, anchor in the middle of the lake and watch fireworks shot off a tiny island nearby.

The lake house itself felt magical as a kid. The round table off the living room was surrounded by windows overlooking the lake and usually had an unfinished puzzle or game on it. The skinny, steep, windy iron & wood stairs down to the basement revealed a wall of more games, water guns and lake toys galore. And I can still remember the smell of cinnamon raisin bagels and Dunkin Donuts coffee in the mornings.

My brother and I had special rituals with my grandpa whenever we were there. One of our favorites was to go on long walks with him down the gravel road past the house. There, we’d pick raspberries off the endless bushes that lined the road. We’d walk over to the silent, mossy old graveyard and search for the oldest tombstones. And no walk was complete without a sturdy walking stick. My brother and I would find big sticks and hand them over to my grandpa for inspection. If it was a good stick, we’d bring it back and he’d sand down a smooth handle and chop it to “kid-sized”.

If you were awake early enough, you might get to go with Grandpa to the general store for the newspaper or Dunkin Donuts for coffee. If you were really lucky, you’d get to pick out candy sticks or get a roll of necco wafers from the general store, too. Sometimes, we’d take after-dinner boat rides and my brother and I would perch in the very front of the boat, searching for huge wake waves from other boats and begging grandpa to fly over them. Other early mornings or evenings, you’d find grandpa down on the dock fishing – and always excited if we wanted to join him.

My grandma would make giant sandwich platters for lunch and delicious home cooked meals each night. She and my mom would run off and play at antique shops while the rest of us spent our days jumping off the dock and floating around in inter tubes, or tubing and water-skiing on the lake.

When we were kids, we made what we called “treasure chests” in the rocks along the shoreline; moving rocks around to create little spaces and capping them tightly with large, flat rocks. We’d run along the slate gravel paths around the house and have water gun fights with our cousins. And when we got older, we’d take out the Sea-doos and search for big wakes to crash over on our own.

This weekend, we convened at my cousin Brian’s house on the lake. I didn’t realize it until we were out on the water, but grandma and grandpas old place was almost directly across the lake from Brian’s.

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A poor shot of the old house through the trees, but the best one I could get! I think I accidentally had a weird filter on my phone camera.

When it was time, we all piled in two boats (there were over 20 of us, including my sweet Grandma) and headed towards the old house. When I finally saw it, I just ached inside. What I wouldn’t give to be in that place one more time! To walk down to the cemetery eating fresh berries…smell the smells…hear Grandpa laughing. It’s funny how unfamiliar the lake looked as we left Brian’s, but how utterly familiar it felt as we got closer to that lifetime of precious memories. And turning around to leave from the old house was familiar, too – that view we’d seen a million times as kids – from the house, the deck, the dock.

Someone still lives there, making their own memories. It’s bittersweet. (But don’t think I didn’t stalk VRBO already on the off-chance that the new owners rent it out. It’s possible that I found the house next door, or one very close. Will update when my stalking is complete.)

My dad got this urn for grandpas ashes that would float a bit, then eventually sink and dissolve in the water. As one of us pointed out, it looked just like a buoy – how fitting. So as we turned away from the old place, my Dad and several others said some words, and then he released the “buoy” into the water. All of us hovered around it in our boats and watched grandpa bob and drift, until he found the perfect spot to rest.

It was a special day.