Less is more, more or less: my social experiment.

About two years ago, I read a book called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. The concepts Hatmaker examined in those pages were not new to me, really,  but they were passionate about minimalism in a way to which I had not been previously introduced. As I sat around my safe little townhouse that fall, I was itching to stage my own mutiny. I stared at my extra possessions as the chains they had become and longed to be free. I remembered the glorious movement made available to me when I lived on a sailboat with only a duffel bag to my name. Those were the days and I wanted them back. I wanted to be free to serve with my material things and not to be served by them. Nearly a year later, I embarked on a journey of minimalism with all the gusto of a woman with some time on her hands and some wildness in her heart.

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It was quite an adventure, that whole “living with little” experiment. I sold anything I could not possibly see myself using on a daily basis and moved into a wee studio apartment built onto the end of a house. I had electricity and water and wi-fi, so it was not completely off the grid (which I would LOVE to try sometime), but it was minimalism in so many other ways. I had no dishwasher, no microwave. The kitchen held only a small apartment stove that was too small for my pans; the bathroom contained a cabinet and a tiny corner shower that was smaller than any of the ones I used at summer camp all those years ago.

I had no furniture save for my bed, a chest of drawers, and a comfy chair. I ate sitting on the floor. I hosted a couple of “floor picnics” and invited friends to join me for dinner. (I have learned to set a blanket as well as I can a table.) I had given away most of my books, which was one of the hardest things to let go. I did not watch television. I did not have a bedroom, just a big open room where all of my life behind closed doors had to take place every day. I bought little. I gave away a lot.

And now I am here: in a much larger place in a much larger city, feeling happy but naked with all of this open space and SO MANY DOORS. I had gotten used to having two doors total. Now I have ten. Yes, I just ran upstairs to count them all. (I have an upstairs!?!)

I have more stuff now than I did last year and my own mutiny taught me much about possession. I have learned that I do not need the stuff, but it is okay to have the stuff, and if I am blessed with the stuff, I sure better be ready to use it and/or lose it. Good stewardship is not ownership. It is being willing to have open hands so that you can catch what comes and let it go when needed. Nothing profound about that, really.

I cannot say this past year was earth-shattering in its truth, only satisfying. The day I got the keys to the front door, I sat on my stairs in this new home and prayed that the Lord would use my space and my stuff for His glory. I would not have prayed such a prayer unless I had learned a thing or two about being uncomfortable and inconvenienced in my own walls over the last year.  I am pretty comfortable being in this bigger, brighter (but not necessarily better) place. I hope others are similarly at ease in these walls, walls for which I am grateful as I return from my mutiny against too much and embrace the freedom that comes from holding all things less tightly. I do not own what I possess. It is all gift and it is all given to be gifted. Amen.

From A to B.

A lot of people have asked me how all of this wild change came about in my life recently. It is a long story, very very long, but I want to tell it…if for nothing else than that others will be encouraged to take flying leaps of faith.

I wrote a letter to Johns Hopkins University when I was twelve and told them I wanted to attend their medical school. Their admissions office wrote me back (!!!) and told me to look them up when I completed my Bachelor’s degree and needed a medical school. I have kept that letter all these years. I love medicine. I’ve always loved it. I have vivid memories of visiting family friends and while the other kids played whiffle ball, I was sitting on the porch reading a medical textbook (the mother of that family was a nurse). I have never wanted to do anything else.

But life happens. And sometimes dreams seem so far out of reach that we give up and get lost and turn away in sorrow. I have done that with medicine. Many many times. But not anymore.

When I returned home from the grandest adventure of my life to date, I set about intentionally to be a nurse. I loved classes on nursing and the human body. It is truly an amazing organism, full of wonder and miracle. I would sit in anatomy class and marvel at the intricacies of the human body and be ever more convinced that God is a good Creator. I loved it, even when I did not understand it. But the last semester got more than a little rough with my family, far too close to death for comfort, and I backed out. I laid aside my dream and did the second best thing. I do the second best thing a lot. But not anymore.

So I transferred to a little university tucked into the northwest corner of Arkansas and completed a degree and got a job at that little university. And I tried to convince myself that the second best thing was actually the best thing. I tried. I am a pretty bad liar, even when I am lying to myself. I can always tell when it is an untruth. By January of 2013, I knew I needed to leave but it all seemed impossible. I fought it. I quit listening to the Lord and drowned out the noise and set about the business of making higher education my business and telling myself that serving college students was my life. I love it, too. But not as much as I love medicine.

By January of 2014, I had gotten pretty good at not listening at all. I was living, but it was more survival than actual life. I worked in a great place with good people trying to do good things, but it did not satisfy. I started a Master’s degree in education so that I could seek employment on a different level. I thought I was doing the right thing. I was only doing the safe thing, though. I told the Lord that I would give Him two more years in my little town on my little college campus and that then I would leave. I have found that it does not do to tell the Lord how things will be. It is a sure bet that life won’t end up that way. My love of medicine and my calling that is closer than breathing finally won out over my striving to live the second best thing and I started doing some checking around in February. I had no real belief that I could do it – I am my sole support and I have to work. And besides, I was working on my Master’s degree already. I could not possibly return to medicine. Higher education was going to be my path. But I did more checking. And had more conversations with people in the medical field: nurses, doctors, retired, active. I started researching programs and schools and hospitals. I was still not convinced it would come about. It was strictly a personal research project.

I do not remember the exact day it all changed in me, the day the dam broke and I started believing. I only remember that I decided if I was to live the life to which I had been called, I had to live it in the way I was made to love and serve. I had to do other than sitting behind a desk. I needed to touch and listen and clean up vomit and give shots and listen to heartbeats and hold the hands of the dying and thump the backs of the new babies and love the unloved.

And now…I will. I have a home and things to put in it (that’s a whole other story of blessing in itself). I have a school. I have a job. I have a new town. I have a heart that beats and a Savior that loves and saves. I have everything I need. And on top of all of that, I will see my dreams realized. I gave them up and I am getting them back, slowly but surely. When I leap like this, I am caught. Amen.

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An Open Letter to Comparison

Dear Comparison, 

You wicked ass. You are the robber of joy and the thief of peace.

You tell barren women that they cannot measure up to their mother-friends. 

You whisper lies of self-hatred to the guy at the gym who cannot quite lift the weights like his buddy. 

You shout at the single woman that she will never be loved and never be noticed and to just give up. 

You urge the insecure and the downtrodden to feed their need to be noticed and their need to be right all the time. They cannot even rest for one conversation because of you. They have to interrupt, show someone else up, or prove their point no matter the cost. I watch them and I weep inside for their worthless and fruitless fight. YOU ARE NOT WORTH IT, COMPARISON.

You steal sleep from the woman who doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror. 

You drive daggers into the heart of the hurting fellow who wishes he could make the girl see him for the good man he is.

You tell the artists they because they are not like their peers, they are not true artists. 

You sit loftily on the shoulder of the musician who doesn’t play the one popular instrument at church on Sunday. 

You offer no rest. Only striving. And for nothing. 

We compare our clothes, our bodies, our marriages, our children, our work, our very lives to one another. We believe and we live the lie that we have to do so. It steals each day before it even begins. 

Shame on you, Comparison. You are thief and a liar. 

I read somewhere recently that “sometimes the way to win is to never enter the race.” I wish we all could forget the race. It is our own race we are to run, not each other’s. We forget that. We lace up our shoes, line up at the starting line, and tear each other to shreds when the whistle blows. It is all because of you, Comparison. 

But you, even you, can be beaten at your own game. We can stop listening, you know. We can drop out of the race and try as you might to make us soldier on, we can refuse and, instead, find rest. We can be at peace. We can see the joy in each morning – joy unmarred by the need to win. 

Comparison, your undoing is that you only have as much control as we give you. We don’t have to listen. My brothers and sisters will not always be in your clutches. They will rise above and they will find their hearts free to live their respective journeys well outside of your reach. Your time is limited. 

 

My fire. Not yours.

“You don’t know what love is until it is your own child in your arms.”

“You don’t know how to live selflessly until you get married. Until then, you’re just selfish.”

“You don’t know how to love someone else sacrificially until you get married.”

“You don’t know what tired is until you have a baby.”

“You won’t be refined by fire until you get married. You just wait.”

When these words have been directed at me from the young marrieds, newlyweds, and fresh mothers I know, I realize they mean well. But they break my heart. Absolutely break my heart. If I swallowed all this nonsense whole, I would be a withered shell of a woman convinced I had not yet really lived. But I know better.

I am thirty-one. I am single. I have never been married. I have never had children. None of this is by choice. It is just how life has happened thus far. I do not, not for one second, believe that because I am unwed and childless that my life is half-lived, or that I am a nothing until I walk down an aisle in a white dress or give birth. I am a woman regardless. And the Lord has made it clear to me that I am loved and I am of worth – worth that is not found in any man or child or institution.

Before you tell me that I do not know what love is, ask me the story of sending my little brother off to wage war in a desert. Ask me about having to leave my darling in an orphanage in Venezuela and the last memory I have of her is her standing at the gate waving goodbye as only a toddler can.

Before you tell me that I don’t know how to live selflessly, ask me the story of how I took care of a home and a family for YEARS…starting at age fourteen. Ask me how it felt to live in a dorm for three years and care for college students at odd hours and at the expense of my own health.

Before you tell me that I don’t know sacrifice, ask me the story of the summer of 2010.

Before you tell me that I don’t know what tired is, ask me the story of my last year in college.

Before you tell me that I won’t be refined until marriage, ask me about my life. I have been through more hell than you can ever know. I have been burned and I have been redeemed. The flames have gone way past what any marriage could ever do.

Just because I do not have a ring on my finger or a child in my arms does not give you the right to tell me that I am less than you, nor does it open up conversation for you to state a case that I have somehow missed a great secret that can only be found if I live your path. Your hurtful and unthoughtful statements say a lot more about you than they do about me.

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I am woman. I am fierce. I am soft. I know life and I know death. I will keep learning and growing and failing and succeeding. Quit comparing and quit chiding. My fire may not look like yours, but it is still a fire, burning hot and fast. 

 

Commissioned Moments (and how I mess them up).

“Look at him.”

My heart sped up, skipped a beat, and swelled full – it was THE VOICE again. It is otherworldly. Not so much a voice, but an urging, a feeling that something must be done. I call it the voice because I do not have a real sense of how to explain it. It is the Holy Spirit, really.

So, there I was, walking down a street in downtown San Antonio with my dearest friend and laughing and chatting and enjoying the beauty of a good Texas August when I saw him. The guy. And I heard THE VOICE, more in my heart than in my head, softer than a whisper but louder than a shout: “Look at him.” It was the guy with too many clothes on for mid-August in Texas hill country, with fingernails dirty, and an old guitar beat up from too many nights on the streets. In the middle of the boutiques and tourists and sorority girls, he was digging through the trash looking for a bite. And we locked eyes. I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew. I had clear direction: “Give him that twenty in your wallet that you were saving for a trinket. Give him a hug, all six feet of unwashed fellow. Give him a big hug from Me. And tell him I love him. I am God and I love him.”

Though our eyes had met and I saw the hurt and fear and hunger for something other than food in his eyes, I averted my gaze. I did not even skip a word in the conversation I was having. I kept walking. I spent the rest of the trip confessing to the Lord that I had not done as He had asked me to do, and I was reminded over and over and over that I missed an opportunity to love.

That day was nearly a year ago now. I cannot forget it. I learned a lesson and I have been forgiven, but I cannot forget it. The remembering means that every day becomes a wild gift of “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

This past winter, a few months after San Antonio and only a few days before Christmas, I was grocery shopping on a droll Saturday morning in my wee town and I heard it again: “Look at him.” I was tired and had too much on my mind, but I looked and sure enough, I saw a fellow about my age in the next aisle. He had a wife and three little girls in tow, and a cart full of the cheapest food money can buy. They were unwashed and worn, with tired faces holding too many creases for their ages. I watched. We met in every aisle. It was not by accident, I am convinced. I ended up just in front of them at the checkout line and I knew what I had to do. But I did not want to. I had other places for my money to go. I tried to focus on bagging my groceries, but something kept me from leaving. So I turned back to the cashier at the last minute as the young father was handing over his money and I told the cashier I would pay for their bill. Part of it. Then I was told that the machines would not split the bill in two different payment options so I handed my card over again and paid for the rest. It was much much more than I expected to give. The Lord is funny like that. I spent the next five minutes consoling a crying father and hugging his wife and wee girls. They smelled so bad. They looked so beautiful.

I made it to my car and was crying so hard I could not see to load my groceries, so I stood there, hunched over the seat. I felt a tiny tug on my coat and turned around to see the oldest girl, maybe six, holding out a lollipop to me and reaching up for another hug. I grabbed her up and wished her another merry Christmas and she smiled and ran back to her car. I cried for thirty minutes in the parking lot with my forehead on the steering wheel. They were tears of awe, not sadness. I am a sorry sinner who loves and fails. And the Lord used me anyway. All is grace.

Matthew 28:16-20 reads: “But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

I join the disciples, the ones who actually saw the Christ, in their doubt all too often. I do not doubt the Lord, but I doubt myself. I doubt I can be used for His glory. And that attitude leads to my playing small, to my averted gazes and closed off heart. I tend to believe someone else is better equipped, better prepared, better to serve. What nonsense. Whether I am ready or not, the Lord is ready to use me and when and where and to whom I am called to serve and love, I must go. I do not want a life littered with San Antonio moments; I want a life littered –  full, end to end – of grocery store moments.

The voice whispers and I try to leap at opportunities to love. I still miss the mark. But all is grace.

{She Reads Truth}

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