Living Lightly

One of the minimalist ideologies that most deeply resonates with me is the idea of “living lightly.”

For some, this might mean traveling the world with just a backpack that contains all your worldly possessions. For others, it means downsizing significantly (which of course means different things to different folks!). It’s another one of those terms that varies based on the person, and I’m still learning what it looks like to live my life lightly.

But I like think of it as the feeling of being on vacation and living out of a suitcase.  I love arriving somewhere new, unpacking my small pile of clothes in the hotel closet and living light for a few days. It’s a lot easier to get dressed in the morning, choose makeup & accessories and go because I am not burdened by choice. Perhaps, for me at least, it’s one of those things that makes vacation a little bit more relaxing and stress-free.

Husband and I recently returned from an amazing trip out to Oregon. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it (picture proof below)! Even though we packed a lot into our 5 days, including 3 different hotels, it felt great to throw a “just right” amount of things into my suitcase and jet off to the next place. Now that’s living lightly. And to me, the freedom of it is utterly addicting.

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This friendly bee let me get super close with my fancy new camera! Thanks, bee.

While I LOVE seeing new places, I’ve never been a fan of the actual “getting there” part. In fact, I used to have to pop a Valium in order to get on a plane at all. A couple of years ago, I felt led to work on that. Lucky for me, Husband was traveling a lot for work back then so I had the opportunity. I was able to go with him on a few trips and we had a lot of weddings to go to that year as well; many of which were out of town.

This was well before my minimalist journey began, but to be honest, I think all the traveling we did taught me my first minimalist lesson about the joy of living lightly (although I didn’t know it at the time!) I also learned that there’s really no better way to get over a fear than to jump right into it and just do it. Like, a lot.

I still feel some tinges of nerves before a long-ish flight. But feeling relaxed on our flights to and from Oregon was glorious! It’s an incredible feeling to be on the other side of a fear that was once so crippling.

And even though I can’t declare complete victory over travel fears after this one trip, I now have some major wanderlust. This probably sounds crazy to some people, but I’ve never actually thought this fear was something I could get over; that I’d actually feel free to GO.

And the idea of traveling more has me thinking more about just how lightly I might be willing/able to live.

This past weekend, Husband and I went to a Tiny House Festival just east of Atlanta in Decatur. I cannot tell you how much I LOVE the spirit of Tiny House living.

Buying it outright; not living life with mortgage debt hanging over your head…ability to move freely (if you have a tow-able tiny house on wheels!)…a decision to live with ONLY what you really need because there’s literally no room to pile up un-needed and un-used STUFF. Freedom!

But actually LIVING in a tow-able space is another thing altogether. (Especially since we NEED a king size bed, and we have a menagerie of animals to consider.) But this is part of the reason I wanted to stand in one in real life! It’s the reason we stood in line to get into the festival for like 30 minutes, then stood in line for probably another hour (in the oppressive Georgia heat) just to get to walk through 2 of the 8-10 tiny houses on site.

Sadly, once you’re in there, you really don’t have time to linger for very long, or get a real feel for what it might be like since there are a bunch of strangers in there all trying to see it too. But I’m still glad we went; it was fun to see them in person!

At the end of it all, I’m still not sure I could live in one forever. But man, it would be fun to live REALLY light for 6 months to a year and have the freedom to explore more of God’s beauty with a tiny house in tow.

In any case, I can’t wait to travel again. I am still building up the courage to go overseas, but in the meantime, I have a whole laundry list of beautiful places I want to visit in the ‘ol US of A.

  • Washington State, including Mt. Ranier/state parks, the San Juan Islands and Washington wine country
  • California Wine Country: central coast, Paso Robles, Napa, Sonoma
  • A road trip up hwy 101 and/or the PCH…all the way from Seattle to San Diego
  • Southern Oregon coast, Crater Lake
  • The Coast of Maine/New England
  • Martha’s Vineyard/Cape Cod
  • Glacier National Park in Montana

I’m sure I could go on and on. I’m in love with nature, what can I say…it’s always been so spiritually uplifting to me. And the coast, obviously. SIGH. For now, I will say that I’m very thankful for our home, our animals and sleeping in our own bed. Even if it is hotter than the pits of hell outside. 🙂

Here’s to living lighter and lighter,

S

 

 

 

Casting Stones

Friends, I just have to say that I am consistently, completely and utterly disgusted by the lack of kindness in our world and the overabundance of judgment.

And we are all guilty of failing to be kind and judging; each and every one of us. That includes me. And you.

I have had a lot on my mind in the wake of the awful tragedy in Orlando and the ensuing, endless arguing, name-calling and unproductive dialogue on social media. What I see exploding all over the internet today makes me feel sick, sad, angry, and even a little defensive all at the same time.

Hopelessness for our world begins to creep in when so many precious lives are lost all at once for no reason. Hopelessness tugs at me as I watch those of us who are still here start pointing fingers and declaring where the blame “clearly” belongs.

A few weeks ago, I sat in church listening to an incredible part of a journey through the book of Romans. We talked about judgment and how we as humans aren’t fit (or called upon) to judge others. The majority of the talk was directed at Christians.

In Jesus’ time, the “religious folks” of the day sat on their high and mighty thrones, judging everyone for not being as good as they were. They condemned others for breaking God’s laws (which the others did). But they were routinely reprimanded by Jesus for their haughty ways.

Let me be clear that as a Christian with many Christian friends and acquaintances, the picture of Christianity that’s so often presented today saddens me deeply and does not reflect the kind of life that many of us lead. We’re called hateful, we’re called archaic, and we’re called out of touch with reality.

A good bit of that rhetoric will always be there; Jesus said as much.

But we are not without blame, church. We, too, like the religious folk of old, so easily sit behind our fences and point out the sins of others.

Yet Romans 2:1 says, “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”

While this passage is directed at the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, I believe it holds

kindness
Photo taken: Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, GA

priceless wisdom for ALL of us today; Christian or not. The Bible says to “let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” (Hint: ain’t nobody justified to throw stones.)

I would also like to be clear that I believe in right and wrong. I have opinions and beliefs just like everyone else. But I also know that I am not the judge. That’s God’s job-not mine, not yours.

Hug a gay friend today, you guys. Send kind words to a horrified and scared community of fellow human beings on this planet, whom God loves. Let them, or any other individual or group that has suffered a tragedy (recent or not) know that you haven’t forgotten.

After all, your kindness will go a lot farther than your preaching.

To quote the wonderful Oswald Chambers, “Jesus Christ was always consistent in His relationship to God, and a Christian must be consistent in his relationship to the life of the Son of God in him, not consistent to strict, unyielding doctrines. People pour themselves into their own doctrines, and God has to blast them out of their preconceived ideas before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ.”

 

Practice What Matters

Just over one year ago today, I made a huge change and left my job to “take a year off and see where the good Lord leads me.” And what a year it’s been.

Many things changed over this past year. It was scary at first, taking such a big leap. It was hard and I spent a lot of time feeling guilty over it. Yet I knew, deep in my soul, that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

I was a good 8-9 months into my year away from work before I had the faintest glimmer of

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Photo Taken: Gibbs Gardens Manor House – Ball Ground, GA

what I might actually be meant to do. But those 8-9 months were crucially important because of the things I learned and the ways God changed my heart.

In a way, leaving my job was the first huge step in my personal journey of simplification. Back then, Husband and I had a big dream of moving out to California. I thought about it a lot. Too much, honestly! So much, sometimes, that it caused me great discontent because I was still here in Georgia instead.

And even though I hadn’t yet learned to be thankful enough or content enough with the beautiful life I already had, that too was an important part of the journey. A major impetus to my purging and donating of stuff was the idea that I “wouldn’t want to move across the country” with many of the items I was choosing to part with.

Thankfully, something quite different emerged than discontent and preparing myself for a move that we didn’t end up making.

Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that I’d been holding onto a lot of stuff that would be infinitely more useful to someone else. I realized how selfish I’d been; how I needed to emanate gratitude instead of my own personal desires.

I started this blog to document this journey of simplification and re-discovered my love for writing. I said out loud that I’d always wanted to write a book. I even started writing a little something about my own life and struggles with fear/anxiety.

But recently, I’ve felt pulled into a different book direction: fiction. I’ve been away from

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The joys of the character creation worksheet!

here because I’ve been immersing myself there. I’ve been reading about writing fiction and developing good characters and elements of a good plot line.

I’ve been plotting my plot and asking friends if I can build pieces of their unique and beautiful lives into my characters.

I have no idea what will come of this. But I am going to write it. And I am going to be more diligent about coming here to write, too, because making time to practice the things that matter to us ensures we’re living authentic lives.

I’d still love to live in California someday. But the circumstances in which I find myself really shouldn’t matter. Writing and reading and cooking and taking pictures are important to me; my faith and friends and family and pets are important to me – so I’m planning to practice doing and loving each of these to the best of my ability.

The Art of Abandon

As I’ve continued to read about and pursue minimalism in my life, I’ve found that it beautifully complements and encourages what I’ve been learning in my faith walk as well. In fact, I’d say these days, the two are deeply intertwined.

Letting go of material possessions and learning to hold loosely to the things that remain has me viewing my own faith in new light. It has me holding myself to a higher standard than I used to and questioning my motives. It has me fired up about how many of us might be missing out on the joy of a simple life; a life of real, full, joyful abandon to our God. A life that isn’t searching for security or happiness in the things of this world, but finds joy in the beauty of the present moment. True contentment.

Since I began my own version of this journey, I’ve become increasingly wary of and skeptical of the pursuit of material possessions. I’ve also realized the many, many ways that I (and tons of other Christians) justify these sorts of pursuits. In fact, the message that we all need something bigger, better, or more is so ingrained in most of us that we barely have the ability to recognize it. We work hard to afford all the things we think we need.

Far beyond material possessions, we all get so bogged down in OUR lives and OUR wants and OUR finances and OUR dreams and bettering OURselves and OUR everything that we forget there’s a greater purpose to life than US. My biggest beef with a lot of the literature on minimalism (and even a lot of what I’ve heard in church culture) is that it subtly encourages selfishness. Today’s world encourages far too much focus on ME. This too is such an integral part of our culture that we hardly notice this preoccupation, either.

Without intentional vigilance, we become shackled and consumed by our stuff and by our own concerns. We forget that life is about our Creator, and not what He can do to help us achieve our wants. We want to control our lives. We forget to let Him control, to hold loosely, to be “cautiously carefree.”

My favorite morning devotional is “My Utmost for His Highest,” written by Oswald Chambers. I love it because it’s not all fluff. It’s real, challenging, and causes the best kind of uncomfortable soul-searching for Christians.

Monday’s devotional said, “Have you ever noticed what Jesus said would choke the Word He puts in us? Is it the Devil? No – ‘the cares of this world’ (Matthew 13:22). It is always our little worries. We say, ‘I will not trust when I cannot see’ – and that is where unbelief begins. The only cure for unbelief is obedience to the spirit. The greatest word of Jesus to His disciples is ‘abandon.'”

This is so timely and practical for us, Christians. Ultimately, our attempts to control our lives shut God out. Ultimately, control is unbelief – a huge sin. I think many Christians have decided to serve a very small God. We aren’t abandoned. We’re holding on tightly to things, beliefs, ideas about how we think our lives ought to turn out, our problems, our frustrations, our looks…the cares of this world.

We forget there is a world after this one; that our hope comes from Him alone.

In a fantastic message this Sunday, our pastor gave a list of 4 specific things we do that incite this conflict with God and spark His wrath:

  • We suppress the truth
  • We stop seeing God in creation
  • We don’t give thanks
  • We buy into the religion of “me”

How much of this do we see in ourselves, in our actions? Are we letting the Truth of God’s Love flow through us? Are we actively looking for His love all around us? Are we thanking Him for everything we have (and don’t have)? Is our religion more about ourselves and what we want than it is about Him and His purposes?

As pastor Alan said, we have over-desires. It’s the culture we live in, it’s the insidiousness of being too focused on ourselves. And in Romans 1:18-25, we see God giving people over to their desires, in hopes that they, that we, will return to Him when that thing we want or think we need doesn’t satisfy (because it can’t).

The mere idea that God would “give me over” to some earthly thing I desire because He wants me to find it void, and return to Him is terrifying to me. I hope I never hold onto any care of this world that tightly.

The cares of the world scream at us, pull us this way and that, promising to eventually

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Photo taken: Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, GA

make us feel peaceful, feel at home. But nothing on this earth can do that. Nothing here can fulfill that longing we have. That is the hope of Heaven!

Let’s stop pursuing it in our material possessions. Let’s stop pursuing it in our relationships. Let’s stop pursuing it in our worldly accomplishments, in a quest for perfection or in the way we look.

Again, I go back to Oswald Chambers as he writes, “Jesus did teach that His disciple must make his relationship with God the dominating focus of his life, and to be cautiously carefree about everything in comparison to that.”

So Christians, let’s keep asking ourselves: what is the dominating focus of my life? What do I spend most of my time thinking about, doing, talking about, writing about, reading about? Is it my relationship with Him? Or is it the cares of the world?

Let’s be vigilant; aware of the culture around us – both inside and outside the church. We will never be perfect, but we must strive to be holy in our relationship to Him. Let us hold loosely to all else; cautiously carefree and abandoned to His will alone.

 

Today, Smile at Someone.

There’s a cashier named Wanda that works at our neighborhood Publix grocery store. Every time I am shopping there, I look for her when I’m choosing a line. She’s got this incredibly warm, bright and happy way about her.

Today, I got lucky and ended up in her line. She cheerfully said hi; I told her hello and how much I love that she always has a smile on her face. She said that she loves her job; loves “making a difference.”

Then, she told me a story. A woman came in once and Wanda was her normal smiley, chatty self. The woman smiled back as Wanda talked and rang up her groceries. The woman walked away.

On the surface, this sounds like a non-event. Someone smiled; someone else smiled

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Photo: Tybee Island, GA

back. But a few minutes later, Wanda said the woman came back and thanked her for making her smile. The woman told Wanda that she hadn’t smiled in over a year because her daughter had been murdered.

Isn’t it amazing that a simple smile can change someone’s day or provide a moment of relief to someone grieving? It takes no time, effort or money to smile at someone. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, do it anyway. Smiling will make you feel better and may have a much larger impact on someone else than you realize.

I don’t know about you, but Wanda’s little story gives me chills when I think about it. It makes me want to be a better person. It confirms all the reasons we shouldn’t be judging others, and all the reasons we ought to look away from ourselves and up from our phones. Make an effort to talk to the wonderful people you encounter in seemingly mundane places and for goodness sake; SMILE!

Therefore, GO

Part of this process of simplifying life involves taking a hard look at myself and my habits. This means I must be willing to confront ugliness and disobedience to God in myself.

I used to think way too much about myself and what I wanted. God has been changing my heart in big ways, and I am so thankful to Him for that. After all, if I am to place Him above me, I want and need Him to shine a light in my darkest places.

As a Christian, the idea of dying to self and living for Jesus is not new, but in this journey it’s becoming more real and tangible. I must become less, He must become more. Giving away material possessions and the resulting desire to have less rather than more encourages me to look up rather than in; encourages me to lower self and elevate Him.

Of course, I am far from perfect and still tempted to spend too much time thinking about me. The very hardest thing to let go of is your own life-in complete abandonment to what God has planned. But His will is best, not mine. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.”

Likewise, the notion that as believers, we are called to tell others about God is nothing new. And I think this command can look very different in different people’s lives. But the fact remains that if we are not telling others about Jesus, we are not being obedient.

Matthew 28:18-20 says: “Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Therefore, GO. This is part of God’s will for believers. What does GO look like in your life? In mine? I believe the Lord will show us if we will only give up control and let Him. Today, GO might look like sitting in the quiet and writing. Tomorrow, GO might look like inviting a friend that’s struggling to dinner or coffee. Next year, GO might look much bigger or much different. Regardless of what GO looks like each day, month and year, God promises to be with us. That is great news!

And as I learn and practice simple living one day at a time, I find it easier to be present in the present, not wishing or worrying about tomorrow’s GO. Of course we can’t take day-to-day living to an extreme; some planning and thoughtfulness about the future is certainly not wrong. But it becomes a hindrance if we do it in excess. There is a difference between obsessive planning and an unyielding adherence to our own idea of what God is going to do vs. trust, patience and flexibility.

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Photo: Taken en route to Riviera Maya, Mexico

This is something I have to be very diligent about, given my propensity to control. The practice of letting go has never come easily to me. Perhaps that is the reason I feel compelled to pursue it now.

I would encourage finding ways to let go. What are you holding tightly to that might need to be abandoned back into His care? Take a break from worrying, take a deep breath and see all the blessings you already have. Look at the life God has given you with fresh, thankful eyes. There’s always something to be thankful for.

Remember that feelings are fickle and it’s a choice to indulge in the negative ones. As a fantastic article I read this morning pointed out, “You can stop complaining about your life circumstances, about your losses, about how the world is, and just let go and love what is. Just be. Just accept. Just appreciate.”

You have all you need to enjoy today. Practice looking up instead of in and be flexible enough to go where He leads, when He leads.

Cultivating Mindful Living

It’s been about a month since I resolved to stay off Social Media and avoid mindless internet browsing until after 12 pm.

Honestly, I felt the benefits of this from day 1. Mornings, especially mornings where I have to be somewhere by a particular time, are much less rushed. I feel calmer without all of the “noise” that accompanies social media posts (think politics) and the internet in general.

That being said, I still have moments where I am uncomfortable; moments when I instinctively reach for my phone as a distraction. I think I am still learning just how much this dumb rectangle has enslaved me.

If there’s a lull in conversation, keep occupied with the phone. If I’m waiting for someone to arrive, keep occupied with the phone. If I’m not ready to jump into the days activities and feel like lingering longer, keep occupied with the phone.

I’ll be honest and tell you that I’ve cheated on some of my mindfulness goals a time or two. Like popping on HGTV with my Sling TV app during lunch this past weekend (which I haven’t done in WEEKS) because, in my own words, “It’s the weekend and I don’t care.” I’ve opened social media roughly 3-5 times before 12 pm; most times I caught myself and closed it. Other times I was actually looking for something specific (like testing how quickly WordPress publishes my  blogs on Facebook after I linked the two).

It’s definitely challenging to just BE in those blank spaces of life and that is the thing I want to work on the most. The truth is, learning to be mindful is not easy-it’s work. But I believe if I keep working at it, mindful living will become my habit rather than acquiescing to constantly available distractions and an inability to focus.

After several weeks of eating my breakfast in solitude at the little table off the kitchen by myself, it still feels weird to sit in silence and NOT be playing on my phone or iPad. It still feels like an effort sometimes. Yet I know it’s fostering more of a sense of calm in me as I start my days. It’s forcing me to be present, be in the now.

And that’s truly one of my big life goals: to live as much in the here and now as possible. We’ve all heard “take it one day at a time” so often that it hardly holds meaning anymore. But if most of us would stop and think about that, I think we’d realize that perhaps we spend a lot less time in the here and now than we should.

The Bible says that God gives us grace for each day; that we ought not to worry about the

enjoy the journey
Photo taken: Kennesaw Mountain, GA

future. To me, living mindfully and focusing on His presence through each part of my day is the ultimate freedom. Not worrying about tonight or tomorrow or next week/month/year. Not being so preoccupied by stuff or my to-do list or what I want to accomplish that I lose sight of what’s truly important in life.

I want my journeys to be as full of love and joy as my destinations. And it is in the seemingly mundane moments of life these past several weeks that I’ve seen the power of a daily focus on God’s presence and the present. I’ve seen more beautifully colored flowers and trees while driving to and from my normal weekly destinations. I’ve heard more bird songs as I’ve sat quietly with no distractions on the front porch. I’ve smiled at more strangers while I grocery shop.

The big moments of life are certainly great, but it is when I’m present enough today to notice the tiny ones that my heart explodes with joy, gratitude, and love for the journey itself.