What Lies Within Us

One of the best things about simplifying my life has been re-discovering my love for writing.

As many of you know, I have been furiously working away on writing a novel.

But a few weeks ago, and quite by accident, I stumbled upon a short story contest. I’ve been thinking for awhile now that I wanted to write some short stories and submit them somewhere. I think it will be a good experience and great practice – to learn formatting, get used to rejection, and just maybe, get published and know what it feels like to have your writing ripped to shreds by professionals.

All of that was reason enough for me to enter the contest. But there was more. This was “The Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest,” with a theme of “Beach Life” that had

Rehoboth Beach Reads
Picture borrowed from: http://catandmousepress.com/contest/

to have strong ties to the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware area. It just so happens, a good chunk of my Mom’s family is from that area, and I spent a lot of time there as a kid when my grandparents were still alive.

It felt serendipitous.

I was allowed to submit up to 3 stories, fiction or non-fiction, for a chance to be one of 20-25 stories published into a collection of short stories, and one of 3 monetary prize winners.

I got to work writing immediately – I found the contest VERY late, and only had a couple of weeks to write and polish my submissions. I ended up with 2 pieces to submit, one fiction and one non-fiction.

As I was researching some quotes to use in my fictional story, I came across this one from Henry David Thoreau:

What lies before us and what lies behind us are all small matters compared to what lies within us. And when you bring what is within out into the world, miracles happen.

As I continued weaving my story together, the importance of the quote grew – to the point that I used it to name the story (and this blog), as well.

I love how it can mean something different for everyone; we each have something unique inside of us. While it can be scary to bring it out into the world for all to see, just think about the possibilities if you do.

I can tell you, these last weeks of writing frantically, editing, re-writing, editing and re-writing some more have been a roller coaster. There were moments I loved what I wrote, and moments I was sure it was all utter crap.

And hitting SUBMIT on my two stories was one of the most terrifying and exciting moments of my life. But man, am I glad I did it.

Now, I have a little experience writing as a deadline looms. I’ve put what is within me -my heart and my very best effort – into this, and now I’ve sent my short stories out to strangers who will decide if they’re worthy of publication.

So now, I wait. August 7th-ish can’t come soon enough. Wish me luck!!

What Shall We Eat? Part 2: The Mental Aspects

For me, there were several pieces to this food journey. Of course, the first was an open mind – a willingness to challenge my own actions. Next is the mental aspect: digging in and learning.

Equipped with an open mind and the strongly worded Facebook posts of my friend, I began my journey into food re-evaluation. I wanted to know why she’d made such a drastic change in her diet, going from a meat eater to a very passionate vegan. What effect would the research have on me? Would I change my mind and become a vegan too? I was a little scared to know the answer to that, truth be told (because cheese). Nevertheless, I dug in.

First, Husband and I watched a couple documentaries she recommended: “Vegucated” and “Forks over Knives”. Both of them explore the benefits of a vegan (all plant-based) diet, and potential harmful effects of consuming animal products – for the animal as well as the person eating it.

For some people, veganism is all about a decision not to contribute to inhumane treatment and/or the killing of animals, period. Still others claim myriad health benefits: more energy, reduced cholesterol levels, reduced risk of heart disease, blood pressure issues, cancer and more.

They also argue that never before have we had the ability to purchase all types of produce year-round. In years gone by, people had to rely on seasonality of produce – only able to eat what they could grow in their climate. Now, we don’t really need meat to have a balanced diet – so why kill all those animals?

Of course, there are two sides to every story – my research into veganism proved that well.

I wanted to hear from people that had tried veganism and reverted as well. My research there led me to several blogs and accounts of people who had been vegan, but after some time, decided they didn’t really feel that great anymore and re-integrated some animal products into their diets. After awhile, some said they began to feel tired and sluggish, and some complained of always being hungry and dissatisfied.

My guess is that folks who have chosen a vegan diet because they are protesting the treatment and/or killing of animals are less likely to “convert back” to meat-eaters, although I don’t have any research to back that up!

I also watched the documentary “Cowspiracy” in which it is claimed that animal agriculture accounts for more than half of the world’s total pollution. The documentary explores this claim, and highlights the unwillingness of major environmental organizations to talk about this serious issue.

Of course, being a skeptic by nature, I also read several responses that discredit the “more than half” percentage given in the documentary. These responses claim that the documentary only relied on one study to get their numbers. Make no mistake – the pollution caused by animal agriculture is real and problematic – but many contend the magnitude is NOT as this documentary claims. There’s definitely something shady going on here, though. And it makes a lot more sense after reading the absolute best resource I found about food chain issues: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

In this book, author Michael Pollan traces the entire food chain of 4 complete meals – andOmnivore's Dilemma then eats each meal. The first meal is produced in the typical “Industrial” food chain, the second by an “Industrial Organic” food chain, the third by a local organic farm operation, and the fourth he produces himself as a hunter-gatherer. I HIGHLY recommend this book as an anchor for anything else you watch or read. I was hooked pretty quickly, and learned SO much valuable, important and interesting stuff.

Suffice to say I cannot begin to sum up everything I learned, but I’m fairly certain it’s not possible to watch and read all these things and come out the other end unchanged. I cannot un-know the things I saw, heard and read. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it all, process it all and come to conclusions – but I’ll save most of that for another post.

Certainly, a lot of this stuff is difficult to read about or watch. Some of it was more sensational (worst of the worst) than others. But at the end of the day, I don’t want to bury my head in the sand about any of it, because it is REAL and it is happening. I believe it’s necessary to ask myself: how should I respond to this?

My initial response was to log into my Hello Fresh app and select the Vegetarian option instead of the option with meat. Sensational or not, the things I learned made me want to eat less meat out of sheer horror.

But overall, this has been a process rather than a knee-jerk reaction. Initially, I was very frustrated that it was so difficult to obtain food with a clear picture of where it came from. Frankly, that’s still frustrating. But for now, I’m settling into the knowledge I’ve gained and am learning what feels (and tastes!) the best for me personally.

Once I educated myself and began dealing with all this information, I of course had to grapple with the physical aspects and claims I was hearing. How does food make us feel and affect our bodies? What effect does it have on the environment and the animals we are eating?

These questions are really anything but simple – and some of them are certainly different for different people. But I’ll be exploring them a bit next time!

 

Hard Questions

I have already encountered ugly, ugly things in my own heart as I’ve been on this road to simplicity.

I’m not sure anything can really prepare you to confront the ugliest parts of yourself, except for Jesus and faith.  Even for all the instances where I’ve shown a lack of faith (too many to even remember), somehow, faith still lives in me.  Even if I can’t see through the mire of “right now”, I still hold the unwavering truth that “Jesus is in this somewhere.” And the only explanation is Jesus Himself, living in me!

The first ugly thing that I had to confront in myself on this journey was a very real desire for wealth and earthly possessions.  A new car, a bigger house, more this, more that.  I am

2015 acura MDX
Photo Credit: pohankaacura.com

ashamed of myself, I truly am.  The thing is, though, I always felt uncomfortable about it, even before I could really admit that something was wrong. I was defensive if I read something that hinted I wasn’t on the right track.  I found ways to legitimize what I wanted.  And I know I still fall into this thinking from time to time!

 

But at some point, I admitted I was uncomfortable with myself and a profound change took place.  I read Andy Stanley’s book “How to Be Rich” in which he discusses that by the WORLD’S standards, most every American IS
How to Be RichALREADY RICH.  “Rich” doesn’t just mean Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg.  It means you and me.  (You can find a link to the book on my Suggested Reading page.) The thing is, it never FEELS like that because in our culture, the normal way of life is to “climb the ladder” and make more to get more.  On to the next!  Bigger and better!  Think about all the publications and advertisements that exist just to make sure you know that you DON’T quite have it ALL just yet.  You still need this, that or the other thing.  It’s quite normal to start making more, then immediately adjust to that increase by spending more as well.  In fact, that’s pretty hard NOT to do for most of us.

Then, I learned during a sermon at our church about a website where you can enter your salary and see how your income and/or wealth compares with the rest of the world.  My Husband’s salary alone was among the highest incomes of the world’s population.  That day in church, our pastor also told us that most Christians spend more on pet food than they do giving.  He also talked about how so many of us live beyond our means thanks to the magic of CREDIT CARDS, and challenged us to think about how much we have that we don’t need, as well as how much we COULD give if it weren’t for the debt we’d racked up. Maybe we don’t need a plan to get out of debt as much as we need to re-evaluate our lifestyles.  Ouch.

The Lord was giving me a heavy dose of reality and perspective. Thinking in global terms shook me out of what felt like a half-awake stupidity.  OF COURSE there was more to life than calculating how much MORE money we’d need to get the stuff we wanted.  Now I wasn’t sitting around thinking about what I DIDN’T have–I was marveling at what I DID have and how it was truly far beyond what I had originally believed.   Compared to the WORLD, we have over-the-top, without a doubt, unquestionably MORE THAN ENOUGH.

De-cluttering led me to disbelief at how much I still had. Beginning to tidy up and journaling my experiences here has brought intense gratitude and appreciation for the items that we own.  In fact, the more I really think and study in global terms, the more over-the-top our American way of life seems.

My husband and I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Living on One Dollar.”  It chronicles a group of guys who traveled to rural Guatemala and attempted to live there amongliving on one dollar the people on one dollar per day.  When the documentary was over, I was silent for a moment as I reflected on just how stark a difference there was between that rural, farm community life and my own life.  We had gone to COSTCO that day, for crying out loud!  It is sobering to think yours or my “typical” American life is something that is so very very foreign to so many.

How materially blessed we Americans are leads to hard questions.  Why was I born in America, while someone else was born in a place like rural Guatemala, fighting to survive on an average of one dollar a day?  Should I feel guilty for what we have?  What am I going to do with the knowledge that there are people surviving with SO MUCH LESS than I have?  Do we pack up and go on mission trips?  Do we sell all our possessions, get that tiny house and go full minimalist after all?  IS IT BAD TO WANT THINGS?

These are undoubtedly difficult questions, most of which I cannot answer.  What I do

gods purpose
Photo taken in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

know is that Jesus is somewhere to be found in each and every one of them.  I know that some of these questions have led me right here, sitting on the floor in my bedroom typing this blog post. One of my favorite things about God is that He’s always working; always leading.  He knows what’s around the bend, and the bend after that.  There is purpose, even when we can’t see it or comprehend it.  So again, I’m saying: choose to be grateful today, and keep your eyes and ears open for the Lord.  Read a new book. Watch a documentary.  If you never have, think about how you live vs. how the world lives.  I mean REALLY think about it.   You may have to look at something a little ugly on a page or a screen (and maybe in the mirror), but it will begin change you in the best possible ways.

Much love,

S

The Secret Joy Hiding in Your Books

I adore reading.  It ranks high on my short list of hobbies.  So you might think I had trouble letting books go.

Full disclosure: before I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” I had already donated MOST of my books.  (They were all sadly packed away in a closet…and the ones I kept were still in said closet for the most part.)  Frankly, ever since husband got me a Nook for Christmas several years ago, I’ve been happily collecting books in electronic form.  I still enjoy the feel and smell of a real book, although I suspect not as much as some people do.

Anyway…I did not take a “before” shot of my books, and I dropped off my discards at Goodwill without snapping pictures either (like a bad blogger).  BUT, the pile wasn’t that impressive to begin with.

I held my books in my hands one-by-one.  For books, not only are you deciding what brings you joy, but you’re also paying attention to the words in each title.  KonMari talks a lot about the power of words and how tidying up can not only physically de-clutter our spaces, but also lighten a person’s load; unburden and clear out the mind.

books that spark joy
I did not place these books on my shelf in any particular order, but my special little collection ended up “sandwiched by happiness.”  Every time I see this, I smile.

She suggested that another way to think about what books to keep is to think about what kind of life you want to lead-to keep books whose titles align with who/what you want to be.  (Her example is if you’re single, but want to find a relationship, don’t adorn your bookshelves with books about being single!)

I love this unexpected, secret sliver of joy; I truly do.  I believe in the power of positive thinking and affirmations in daily life. I believe positive words cultivate positive thinking and a thankful attitude towards God.  It fosters contentment and appreciation in our lives. And I must admit…while I don’t believe keeping certain books will magically change my life, there is something exciting about seeing books that not only spark joy, but whose words have a special meaning to my life as well.  It was surprisingly delightful to see that the books I kept really reflected the things that are important to me (Family, my marriage, my pets), things I’m working on (searching for my purpose, focusing on the positive/happy, being thankful) and even places I want to visit (San Juan Islands, anyone?!)   

It is suggested

joyful desk decor
Random desk shelf joy: journals and trinkets I kept

that all books ought to be stored in the same space. In general, I think that’s useful for keeping track of how much you have. But I did not follow that advice with my books.  I enjoy using books as decoration in a few different places in our home, although most of them are in our home office.

I found the end result of book tidying to be well worth the effort.  I love the idea of surrounding yourself with words that reflect the kind of life you want to lead.  And now, pretty much all of our books are out on display where we can see them and leaf through them any time-not shoved in a closet; forgotten and taking up space.

more joyful books
“Where the Sidewalk Ends” always seems to survive the purge.  🙂

I think with each bag that gets taken to Goodwill or thrown away, I am gaining clarity.  Each time I let go and give away…I find that I still have more than enough.  It sounds crazy, but there is truth to be found in this process.  This thankfulness, this reflecting on why I’m doing this, it’s somehow cultivating openness to God’s leading in my life.

My experience won’t be everyone’s experience, but I hope that you will spend some time thinking about what you have-material and otherwise-and just be thankful today.  There is enough.

Next time, I tackle the dreaded “PAPERS” category.

S