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. ❤

Give A Little Grace

I’m sitting here today, a few hours from boarding a flight to Pennsylvania to visit family. I’m excited to see everyone, but my peace has been missing for most of the day.

My travel phobias strike again!

This is frustrating. The flight to PA is less than 2 hours, and I did just fine a couple months ago on a 5 hour flight to OR.

My immediate reaction is to be really irritated with myself, and berate myself for not feeling peaceful and letting these dumb fears affect me in the slightest.

But today, I’m choosing to take a step back and let mindfulness lead. Step 1: WRITE. Step 2: When I can feel I’m starting to be too tough on myself I ask this question: if my best friend were describing my own feelings to me as hers, what would I say?

The short answer is: nothing close to what I am tempted to say to myself.

My usual inner dialogue snarls things like: “I can’t believe you’re letting this affect you AGAIN.” Or, “You are such a failure! I thought we conquered this fear already. You’re such a baby.” And my favorite, “You haven’t changed at all!”

What would I tell my best friend were she having the same feelings as me? I’d say things like: “Don’t be so hard on yourself! You may always have this fear, but remember how many strategies you’ve learned to get through it.” And “It’s OK to feel the fear; you’re going to get on that plane anyway and conquer it.” And “Just think how good it will feel once you’ve got another travel experience under your belt.” And “You’ve done this a bunch of times before, you got this!”

Have you ever noticed how much harder we are on ourselves than we would be on our friends? I’m actually kind of shocked at how stark a difference there is between the two for

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Photo Taken: La Jolla, CA

me. But self-hatred and perfectionism have an insidious way of creeping in until you barely even notice them. I had these negative thoughts about myself in a split second. They felt so familiar and it would have been easy to just accept them rather than grab them and throw them out.

It takes mindfulness and sometimes, retreating to a quiet place, to recognize harmful self-talk and decide to talk to yourself in a different way. Now, I have the option to re-write my bad thoughts and focus on good thoughts instead. I don’t have to accept whatever happens to pop into my head first.

We could all stand to give a little more grace. Both to others and for many of us, to ourselves. (By the way, I think this works just as well if you catch yourself having less-than-kind thoughts about others!)

Put this little exercise on the long list of reasons I love writing and learning to be mindful! I hope that someday, my immediate reaction to my own struggling or being less than perfect is more likely to be kind than cruel.

After all, I’d never dream of saying the things I tell myself to anyone else. I’m feeling calmer and more centered at that thought alone.

 

The Pride of Insecurity

I just finished reading a seriously incredible book. It’s probably in my personal top 5 now: Allison Vesterfelt’s “Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage.”

It’s the story of how Allison (Ally) and her friend Sharaya decided to quit their jobs and go on a 6 month road trip, visiting each of the 50 states. Ally writes that the trip was part of a dream for each of them (writing for her, singing/performing for Sharaya), how they got by, people they met, people they reconnected with, people and things they lost and lessons learned.

As if that wasn’t enough to intrigue me, (hello, blog post of a few weeks ago where I swoon about the idea of prancing on the west coast for 6 months) once I started reading this book, it was almost like I was reading words I could have written. It was as though I’d gone on the wild adventure I always convince myself wouldn’t be possible for someone like me, and I was reading the lessons I’d learn if I ever found the courage to do it.

So many things jumped off these pages and into my soul that I could probably blog for days on end about this book. But one of the most glaring was a particularly relatable diatribe of how Ally dreads the question: “What do you do?” She’s a twenty-something who has a dream of being a writer; who quit her job to travel the country with a plan to blog about it and write a book. Not sure any of this will pan out, she finds herself bogged down in insecurity about how to answer the question.

I get it. I quit my job, I’ve started a blog and I’m working on writing a book, too. No one is paying me. I have to set my own deadlines and goals. I worry about how others perceive what I’m doing. Do they think I’m just goofing off, wasting my life? Do they think I have nothing important to do because I’m not getting paid when I work at my craft? What do I even say when people ask me what I do? My answer to that question is usually plagued with insecurity, as I mumble something about reading, working out, cooking, cleaning and I’m actually, er, kind of, um, working on writing a book. (I’m silently lamenting how awkward I am in these conversations.)

Ally writes this about insecurity: “I wish I could pass off insecurity as a burden to bear and everyone would feel really sorry for me, but the more I think about it the more I see that my insecurity is really pride. My insecurity makes everything all about me.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Honestly, I’ve never really thought pride is something I struggle with.  And on the surface, many of us would think insecurity relates more closely to humility than pride. In fact, one of the easiest ways insecure people disguise their insecurity is in a fog of “humility.” For an insecure person, it’s easy not to take credit for something; not to call attention to yourself. It’s easy to brush off accomplishments by attributing them to someone other than yourself. Because we’re never quite sure we can hack it.

Perhaps the temptation to be an insecure person masquerading as a humble person is extra-easy to fall into for Christians. Because that “someone” we attribute everything to is God.

By no means am I saying that God isn’t involved in our accomplishments, nor am I saying He shouldn’t get any credit for them. Of course He should! I’m merely pointing out that TRUE HUMILITY is what God wants from us, and true humility is not insecurity. It’s not through self-hatred or self-deprecation that we ought to hoist our God onto His throne.

True humility says, “I don’t deserve anything God has blessed me with, but I’m so thankful for the life He’s given me that I want the decisions I make to reflect intense gratitude. I want to live life confidently in His love; sharing my blessings freely with others, in His name, to the best of my ability.”

So when I thought about insecurity as it relates to pride, I began to see it in a new light. I’m insecure at least twice a day – at least once about my physical appearance, and at least one more time about the question: “What do you do?”  When I am insecure, I am making everything about me. I’m comparing myself to others and either finding reasons why I’m not what I wish I was, or trying to make myself feel better. When I’m insecure, I’m elevating myself to a place of importance that I don’t even have! Do most people even care what I weigh or what I’m wearing or what I do with my life? Not nearly as much as I act like they do. Pride screams that it’s all about ME.

Ally writes, “There comes a point where we don’t need anyone to tell us who we are anymore, we just need to take the information we have and run with it.”

I think what she’s saying is…let the insecurity fall away. Trust that God made you who you

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Photo Taken: Cannon Beach, OR

are and put your passions in your heart. Recognize what makes you feel alive; look for the place where your passion and the world’s needs meet and go towards it. “Take the information you have and run with it.” Trust God for the rest.

It’s a freeing way to live, and one I know I need to reach for daily. And somehow, identifying the pride inherent in insecurity helps me put insecurity aside. It reminds me, “Hey, lighten up! Things aren’t all about you and you don’t need anyone to tell you who you are. God made you, loves you, and is in your corner. Run with it.”

 

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