New year, waiting for baby, and an intention to pause

I have a complicated relationship with new year resolutions, with the subtle differences between setting goals and intentions, task lists and priorities. In my twenties I set goals like challenges, and with the fiery energy characteristic of that decade in life, I loved the feeling of the finish line. I wanted to push the limits of what I thought I could do, how far I could travel, what I could learn. In my thirties, I still nurture that same passion, but it’s a much smaller, steadier flame now, and I keep it closer to home.

Goals look and feel and sound different to me now that I have a family. Intentions seem more more nebulous. I tend to live most of my days chasing after an endless task list, my lifelong habit of journaling giving way to messy notebooks scrawled with crossed off groceries, appointments, questions and answers. And as much as I crave clarity when it comes to my long-term vision of how I’d like to shape these sweet family years, they are going by so quickly that I find myself at a loss to describe our family’s values or priorities articulately.

The thing is, I feel okay about all of that. The challenges I’ve faced in my late twenties and early thirties, since marrying my love and figuring out how to live on our own, have humbled me and shown me that goals and intentions and to-dos don’t define me, and can’t fill the deepest parts of me. I know my greatest desire is God, and that real fulfillment is mysterious, paradoxical, maybe even antithetical to the achievement-oriented culture I live in. I know I struggle every day to turn toward God, to seek true fulfillment by listening to the Spirit and serving Christ in others. Every year I think, maybe this will be the year I don’t feel like a fraud, the year I actually commit to following Jesus, the year I am truly transformed.

That’s the muddy, shifting undercurrent of my thoughts when the year turns and a week later I mark the passing of another year of my life. This sense of hesitation to set goals right alongside a sense of urgency to set them. There’s a feeling of needing to articulate my heart’s current state, and hoping to find that my soul is more focused somehow than the year before, that my desires are fewer and more pointed in the direction of God.

At the same time, this year I’m poised at the edge of a big unknown– two weeks from our baby’s “due date,”  an unknown distance to becoming a family of four. So I’m frantically making lists, preparing, puzzling over last-minute decisions. I’m sweating over the fact that the photos still aren’t organized, the closet is still too cluttered, and I haven’t filled in all the parts of both kids’ pregnancy and baby journals– I’m not “caught up.” Normal obsessive nesting behavior. A way for my anxious mind to try to wrest some control over a beautiful mystery: When will the baby come? Will I be ready?

I finished reading Mindful Birthing for the second time, and this go-round I was really struck by two paired phrases: the idea of Horticultural Time vs. Industrial Time, and the idea of Doing Mode vs. Being Mode. They’re interrelated. Nancy Bardacke writes about how labor and childbirth belong to Horticultural Time– a nonlinear experience of time’s passage that corresponds with biological rhythms rather than the clock of Industrial Time. As we near labor, women feel their bodies begin to shift into Horticultural Time. I really love this image– I think of the tendrils of a bean vine curling up around a sunflower stalk, how its wisdom turns it slowly and strongly toward the sun. How the sunflower blooms and tracks the sun’s arc across the sky, and how both record time’s passage but through leaf, shadow, seed, silence, instead of numbers.

I realize I’ve mostly been living in Doing Mode, and that I’m having trouble downshifting to Being Mode. I know that is where I will be spending most of my days after baby comes, and that part of the Horticultural mode of motherhood is a loosening of time, while the baby is waking and eating every few hours, dipping in and out of sleep as he adjusts to an earth ruled by clock time. Since I’ve been through birth and new motherhood once before, I think I’m a little anxious about surrendering again, and so I’m clinging to these tasks as a way to postpone the birth– even though I’m so excited to meet our son– and the shift to Being Mode.

At the same time, I can feel my soul is exhausted, and that Being Mode and Horticultural Time are exactly where I want to be. Part of the difficulty and challenge of motherhood in an achievement and goal oriented culture is that it’s hard to fully surrender to that state of being. It’s where we need to be, and where our babies need us to be, and yet the way we live isn’t set up to support moms and babies in that space.

I’m thankful for the support we do have– my mom and mother in law will each stay with us for a week or so early on; my brother in law is ready to step in and help with Sky, who adores him; and our friends are ready to cook us meals and help as needed. We will do the best we can do enter newborn time, and this phase of uncertain waiting is the first step.

I like choosing one word for the year. The past few years I’ve chosen “trust,” but this year the word that keeps coming to me is “pause.” I have more to say about that but think I’ll close this post there, and pick it up again tomorrow.

 

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Seven Series: All the Rest

**This is the last in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge.

Guys. I made it through the media portion of the challenge and then it all kind of just fizzled out.

I ran into a ton of deadlines, then Sky and Lyle both got sick, I had to keep Sky out of preschool for a week, then preschool went on break, and I had a bunch of late nights playing catch up on writing projects. Then I got the flu on Thanksgiving and it turned into the gnarliest sinus/ear/eye infection I’ve ever had, lasting almost three (!!) weeks. At one point I had a panic attack at 3 am because I actually couldn’t breathe. Fever, urgent care, Tamiflu, antibiotics, antibiotic eye drops, ribs bruised from coughing– it was so so bad.

Eeeverything kind of got put on hold and we are only just starting to climb back out.

But it’s been kind of a blessing, too, which is always how God’s trials seem to work. (Though in the middle of it I might want to punch you in the face if you tell me so.) I mean I let go of a lot of stuff that just doesn’t matter. I felt grateful for the smallest things that should matter more, more often.

Like breath. Like health. Like my son’s kicks and punches in my belly, where he is measuring right on track with a healthy heartbeat, in spite of his mama’s illness. Like my daughter’s sweet, sunny little face when she gets to snuggle in the “big bed” with her mama and watch If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and read library books all day. Like my husband’s endlessly generous spirit and willingness to work for his family. I really don’t know how I lucked out with him, or how he continues to do the hard things for us day in and day out.

So in terms of the 7 challenge, we had four categories left: a media fast, a waste fast, a spending fast, and a fast from stress. Media-wise, I’ve been off Facebook for Advent and I’m really enjoying the break. Waste-wise, and spending-wise, I went through about three boxes of kleenex a day and went to Walgreens or the doctor pretty much every day. So. Then there was some serious Amazon Prime spending on stuff for the baby, Christmas presents, and vitamins/stuff to try to get better.

Nope, can’t say I really “did” those challenges, but in a way they kind of did me.

We cooked a lot from Trader Joe’s freezer section and relied on the kindness of friends, the kind who drop curried butternut squash soup on your front porch or offer to watch your toddler while you nap. The kind who just send a sweet text to check in and say they’re praying for you to get better. The kind who pack their toddler into a stroller and bring over essential oils to help you breathe.

Stress is still present, but I also feel like it’s better. Lyle and I have both had to say no to a lot of social things and extra work opportunities, and that’s been fine. I checked out Seven Sacred Pauses and have been kind of just thumbing through the prayers here and there, and working through the same devotional I’ve been using since summer.

It’s been good. It’s been a month of God showing me my limits and asking me to slow way, way down. I have had some tantrums because of it– it’s really challenging for me to lie down and be still, when my nature is to work and plan and do. It’s challenging to be in pain when I try to do something basic like walk or hear or breathe, to allow things to heal on their own timing, knowing I’ve done everything I can do to take care of myself and my family. I’ve been grumpy and not fun to be around, and I’ve had to relearn how to say “I’m sorry” and “I’m feeling frustrated,” and how that simple reset button really, really does work to allow God in, to let love lead.

So for the 7 challenge, I’m calling it good, and I’m calling it done. As we get closer to the arrival of our second child, I can’t think of a better way to walk there than humbled and ready to let go of the little things, so we can focus on just loving each other and taking care of each other.

Happy Christmas!

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Seven Series: Possessions

**This is the third in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge for more info.** 

Possessions

  • Give away 7 items each day
  • Source meaningful recipients, not Goodwill
  • Reduce and donate Sky’s toys
  • Go through all closets and backyard shed
  • Read about the psychology of consumption, the buy-purge-buy cycle

Day 4

I’m getting a bit of a slow start on this one. I also ended up doing a big clean-out of Sky’s toys and books, some baby items, my bookshelves and clothing, and our kitchen cabinets during the clothing challenge. I guess I started cleaning out my clothes and I got on a roll.

I’m really happy with the results thus far. I read this one simple rule on Rising Shining about maximizing space and minimizing clutter in a small house: keep as many horizontal surfaces clear as possible. Instantly, I saw so many places in our house to declutter, and when I was finished our house felt really bright, open, and inviting. At a little over 1,000 square feet, our house has definitely helped us take a minimalist approach to possessions, kind of by default, no special philosophy or practice needed. We no longer have a garage, and it’s a constant effort to keep the small shed behind our house from becoming a dangerous tangle of garden tools, strollers, and barbecue accessories.

I’ve got a large box in our spare bedroom/ my office collecting seven daily items for donations. Hopefully Lyle will get in on this with me and go through his bookshelves and closet, too.

One thing I’m thinking about: the four storage boxes in my closet containing the journals and notebooks I’ve kept since age 7, old school papers, and letters. These are the possessions I’ve never been able to part with. I’ve been through a lot of phases of letting things go in my life– living out of a backpack at certain points, a small trailer at another– but these boxes have remained a kind of anchor for me. They sat in my parents’ garage for a long time, and I’d sift through them whenever I visited. At a certain point, when we were more settled, the boxes came to Oregon with me for good.

They anchor me in time, but they’re also a weight I’ve now carried during two cross-town moves. I wonder often what it would be like if I didn’t have to cart them along when we move into what we hope will be our forever home in California. I wonder what value they will have for my children, whom I hope will outlive me, and if I’d be doing them a favor by culling the collection a little bit. Or maybe it’s the kind of thing you let go of slowly, a piece at a time, as the years go by.

I’m thinking I will schedule a few hours in the coming weeks to go through one box at a time, and see if there’s anything that can go, or anything I’d rather scan onto a hard drive for safekeeping. I suspect many of my childhood poetry journals are mostly blank pages, and I might be able to copy and combine some of the original poem drafts into one folder.

Tomorrow we’re going to tackle the shed once again. We’ve decided to pare down to one stroller, so we’re letting go of our bulky jogger. (Let’s face it– I’ve never been much of a runner anyway.) I’m hopeful this can be our final organizing session, that we can store what we use most often in the shed so that our items are easily accessible and securely stored. So that everything has a place.

Day 5

Our shed is so clear and open now. It feels much safer, and it didn’t take as long as we had imagined. We cleared out the stroller, a push-scooter that no longer functions, and a baby hiking backpack we bought for $10 at a thrift store. After several hikes with Sky, we’ve determined that for our pace, a regular soft-structured carrier like the Ergo, in backpack-carry mode, is juuuust fine for us. The REI external frame carrier was kind of overkill for us, overly heavy and bulky for the short hikes we typically do.

We cleared away a lot of miscellaneous detritus (wood scraps, plastic pots, a broken kiddie pool) and stored only our most-used items in bins on the back shelf: folding chairs up top, sharp barbecue and gardening tools on the second shelf, and Sky’s extra sand and pool toys in a big blue bin on the bottom shelf. We kept our camp stove and propane there, too, for emergencies, and strapped the push-mower and scoot bike to the wall on one side.

The result: I can actually push the stroller all the way inside the shed. Without running into things, scraping my finger, and cursing. Without shoving the door shut and padlocking it. It feels really great. I’m looking forward to doing the same with our office/craft/guest room closet– the other black hole of where-do-we-put-this-I-don’t-know-just-shove-it-in-there-for-now.

I appreciated this short article in Christianity Today on the appeal of the minimalist movement, because I’ve been slightly wary of the trend for various reasons. My perfectionist nature has led me to try to pare down my belongings to the minimum at many, many different times in my life– only to see them balloon again as I move onto new projects or phases of life that (seem to?) require different tools or clothing.

For a lot of us who grow up in the relative wealth and privilege that is life in the U.S., I think there’s a kind of “anorexia of stuff” that can be dangerous, whether it’s the capsule wardrobe or a Kon Mari decluttering frenzy. What I mean is: anxiety can be the driving force, leading me to pursue a non-existent ideal based on an unrealistic self-image. I get into dangerous territory when I declutter in the mistaken belief that it will give me lasting happiness and a sense of worthiness– when there’s much deeper, more complex soul work to be done instead.

CT writer Kate Shellnutt writes:

But treating any lifestyle change as the real key to happiness usually means idols are lurking underneath. As writer Pamela Druckerman recently noted in The New York Times, “It’s consoling to think that, beneath all these distractions, we’ll discover our shining, authentic selves, or even achieve a state of ‘mindfulness.’ But I doubt it. I’m starting to suspect that the joy of ditching all of our stuff is just as illusory as the joy of acquiring it all was.”

Day 14

Sky got a tummy bug, I left for a long weekend work-ish trip, and then had tons of deadlines in a row. Plus, pregnancy. So. Here’s my catch-up summary.

I never got to sorting through the boxes of journals in my closet. But I did go through the bins in our office/guest room closet and ended up with a large box of giveaway items, including books, clothes, toys, shelving and frames we never used, an unused and very old digital camera, and a straightening iron. Then I moved the two shelves of books that belong to Lyle and me from the living room to the office. When we did the Kon Mari purge last year, we each drastically reduced our permanent “libraries.” But it doesn’t make much sense to store these little-read books in the living/dining room, which is where Sky and I do pretty much everything– painting, art projects, playing, dancing, reading, etc. I moved all of her craft supplies to the book shelf, so now when she’s clamoring to paint I don’t have to run to the closet and rifle around for paper and paint brushes.

I also reorganized her closet with accessible toys, since during these last two weeks we developed a more consistent wake-up routine for her that involves independent play in her room if she wakes up too early. (Which is most days.) We had tried to put a latch on the closet to keep her from getting into the bins of clothes she’s either growing out of or into. But she figured out how to unlatch it (clever girl) and really, I figure her closet should be a safely-organized space she can access by herself anyway.

That means I have bins of outgrown clothes and too-big shoes to store somewhere, so I’m on the hunt for another under-bed storage bin. We have one under our bed for winter clothes she’s about to grow into.

Finally, I cleaned out the secretary desk in the office and moved all of my sewing supplies there. As I begin the 3rd trimester, I’m having pretty serious nesting urges, including lots of ideas for sewing projects. I want to make Sky a blanket, some fun overalls, a firefighter outfit, and a doll. We’ll see if I manage all of that, but hopefully having one central station for everything will make it more appealing to drag everything out to the kitchen table to work. One day I’d like to have a dedicated sewing space, but for now, I’m happy just to have all my supplies in one easy-access spot.

Thoughts overall: This is much more challenging to take on during pregnancy than I had imagined. I also started writing for Red Tricycle, and between the demands of parenting and my other freelance work, I’m pretty wiped out by the end of the day. I’m glad I did the bulk of our cleaning/organizing work earlier in the 1st & 2nd trimesters.

How is all of this affecting me spiritually? It feels pretty practical at this point. I do have an increased sense of how little we truly need to be happy, and more awareness of my urge to “buy” us out of a problem by purchasing something. Even though this isn’t the spending portion of the challenge, it goes hand in hand with possessions. I’ve been reading Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book God’s Economy, and it’s blowing my mind. Hopefully I will have more thoughts on that to share with you soon, but for now I’m just soaking it in. Pick up a copy if you get a chance.

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Seven series: Clothing

**This is the second in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge for more info.** 

The clothing challenge asks us to consider wearing the same seven items of clothing for one month, or in my case, two weeks. (Note: This doesn’t include underwear or footwear!) I’m in maternity clothes right now, trying to get by on the clothes I wore last pregnancy. I haven’t wanted to buy many more pieces at halfway through my pregnancy. Fortunately, I’ve had two close friends give me their maternity clothes after giving birth to second babies recently, and that has been so helpful.

Here’s what I ended up with for those two weeks:

  1. Gray leggings
  2. Maternity jeans Gray maxi skirt
  3. White long-sleeved maternity t-shirt
  4. White maternity sweater
  5. Denim maternity tunic
  6. Short-sleeved green polka dot maternity shirt
  7. Olive green water-resistant jacket

Day 1

We just got back from a long trip to see family, so it seems like everything is in the wash. I wear the clothes I slept in: a white maternity shirt and gray yoga leggings. Guess these are two of my items. Add an olive green water resistant coat, since the rain has officially returned. Later, Sky pees on my shirt right before we leave for story time at the library, so I swap it for a white maternity sweater. Four items: check. I think I’ll add my one pair of maternity jeans and two lightweight shirts to round out the collection. Now what am I going to sleep in tonight? I also find myself thiiiis close to buying an orange maternity t-shirt to make a baby bump pumpkin Halloween costume for myself– then remember I’m not buying clothes the next two weeks. But there’s only one left on Amazon! And it could take a few weeks to ship! And why are there no orange maternity t-shirts anywhere else online?? I can see how the justifications start. I walk away from the computer and decide I can make a ghost face just as easily on my white T, with some adhesive black felt.

Day 2

I caved (already!) and put on pajamas this morning. Jen somehow slept in her clothes during this challenge, but I think I’m going to allow myself a pair of jammies that don’t count toward the seven items. Getting dressed this morning was so easy. I put on my jeans and the green maternity shirt, threw on my boots and jacket and we were out the door to preschool. I’m definitely going to have to wash my leggings and hang them dry today.

Day 6

Today I spritzed my leggings with my DIY all-purpose kitchen cleaner (dish soap, water, rubbing alcohol, lemon essential oil) and headed to yoga class. Gross? Probably. I don’t think anyone cared. I’m going to wash my seven items today. I’ve got three social events coming up this week and I’ll be wearing the same jeans, one of three shirts, and my gray boots to each one. Getting dressed: done.

Now I see why people do capsule wardrobes. I’ve never felt like I had it together enough to adopt that practice. I like lots of different colors, and mostly shop at thrift stores, so it’s hard to make a shopping list and go out to get missing pieces in specific colors or fabrics. Plus, my body shape has changed so much in the last 3-4 years as I’ve gone through illness, pregnancy, nursing/postpartum, post-baby weight loss, pregnancy, miscarriage, and pregnancy again. Whew. It makes my head spin a little. BUT. I think I can make this happen on my own terms. I’m starting to see which of my remaining clothes I could pull into this 7 item rotation for flexibility and simplicity. I have two other pairs of gray/black maternity leggings, and that alone will be a help.

In general, though, I really like not having to think about what to put on in the morning. It is freeing up a lot of time and headspace, both very useful as I try to keep up with my toddler and new work responsibilities.

Day 8

I hate pants. Specifically maternity pants. They never stay on my hips, and I’m constantly yanking them up. After a morning of this, I give up and swap my thrifted full-panel jeans out for my gray maxi skirt. It’s completely “cheating,” but I don’t care. I never want to wear these pants again. Maybe that’s one outcome of this challenge for me: wearing my clothes often enough to see which ones really don’t fit me. The white maternity shirt is also too small for me. Out it goes.

Day 10

Feeling kind of ho-hum about this challenge. Now that I have the gray skirt in the mix, I really don’t mind rotating back and forth between the skirt and leggings. It will be nice to have more options in a few days, but I can’t say that I feel particularly bothered by wearing the same thing over and over again.

Day 12

Spoke too soon? The nonprofit I write for held a fundraiser this evening, and my husband and I went as a date night. I wore my one maternity work outfit– a pair of black pants and a loose floral top, neither on the list of seven. Guess I’m losing steam…

Day 14

Finally done! Though not exactly life-changing, this challenge did force me to recognize what I’m most comfortable in at this stage of pregnancy: leggings and a tunic, or a skirt and maternity T. And to realize I just have a couple of long shirts to wear with the many pairs of leggings I have. So, ironically, my first step after this challenge is over will be to actually buy 2-3 longish maternity tops or tunics. I can’t really justify the small laundry loads just to get more use out of a few pieces of clothing, especially when life with a toddler is so messy.

 

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On Worry and Motherhood

 

“Worry is the work of motherhood,” Pam England writes in Birthing from Within. For me it began well before birth, before I ever held my first child for the first time.

My first pregnancy was ectopic, so when pregnant the second time with Sky, I experienced a lot of anxiety in the early days and weeks. I was afraid it would happen again, and even after early ultrasounds showed a healthy pregnancy developing in the right place, I worried I would miscarry. My first experience of pregnancy changed how I thought about its relative risks. I didn’t share the same kind of innocent confidence many of my friends seemed to enjoy when pregnant for the first time.

But the more I’ve moved into the wilderness of motherhood, the more I’ve come to understand that worry is part of the territory. It isn’t the only part, and it’s certainly not the characterizing trait. But I think my pre-birth self would have been surprised to discover that many of the women who seemed to sail fearlessly through their pregnancies also worked with shadows and fear. Even when you haven’t experienced loss or complication, pregnancy by its very nature is powerfully vulnerable and mysterious.

A few weeks after Sky was born, on our first outing together in the car, we were T-boned by a driver who ran a stop sign. Sky slept safely through the accident in her car seat, but my door was rendered inoperable by the collision, and I panicked trying to get out to check on Sky. That was my first and only thought after we were hit, after my car stopped spinning. Though my car was totaled and I went through several months of physical therapy, we were more or less fine physically. Emotionally is another story. I still have nightmares about that feeling of powerlessness in trying to get out and get to my baby.

And I still think about the woman who hit us, seven months pregnant at the time and unsure if her baby was okay. She couldn’t see her baby, and I think it’s that quality of the unseen that impresses on us how completely outside of our control most aspects of pregnancy really are.

I read this poem by Kelli Russell Agodon not long after the accident, and it has stuck with me. She has generously allowed me to print it here. Thanks, Kelli.

 

Patron Saint of Worry

For an hour we complained
about everything, about saints,
about the fact no one had invented
a babyproof lock for the bathtub faucet.

You said one morning you found
your two-year-old waist deep
in the tub; you were still

in bed—you had slept late—a tired mother
who three years later, still carries this guilt.

We hadn’t even considered the hot water,
the chance of third degree burns.

For an hour, we said much
of our anxieties are from
being Catholic, from our mothers

who grabbed for baseball bats
even at the slightest sound.

You said your mother made you keep
your two fingers on the panic button

of your home’s alarm while she explored
the basement to make sure no intruders
were around.

We still hear the noises.

We still say grace
at the holidays.
We still pray though worry that God
thinks we’re hard to please.

In the middle of dinner,
you asked me how my daughter
knows her spirit animal is a heron
and how mine is a kingfisher.

I said how sometimes I trade saints
for totems, though

I still wear a St. Christopher medallion
around my neck: Pray, hope, and don’t worry.

Tell me if one day we will live
without carrying our history of grandmothers
next to the mace in our purse,
the other life of a bathtub drowning,
how that might have felt?

Will we ever sleep without wondering
if there’s a door we forgot
to lock? You wear a locket of your son

and think up inventions
for hazards. I keep finding new deities
to keep our family safe.

I want us to invent a god
who hands out winning lottery tickets,
who wakes us each morning
from a dream about a solstice

party with good hummus and red wine,
and tells us there is a forest
of doors we never need to lock.

Kelli Russell Agodon


This poem was one of my first inklings that maybe this specific texture of worry wasn’t confined to pregnancy, but was something I would deal with for the rest of my life as a mother. And in some ways, that’s been true. We worried about SIDS her first year, about choking hazards when she started eating solid foods, about our choice of a first baby-sitter. She’s just over two, and I still go into her room to check her breathing after bedtime most nights.

Each milestone brings new worries along with new joys, and for me that is just the pace of motherhood: a steady walk with worry on one foot and enjoyment on the other. I don’t think it’s really possible to abandon fear entirely– it’s part of our brains, our history, our being made in the image of God. I am interested in simple, practical ways of working with worry, though. And that’s where this phrase, “Worry is the work of motherhood,” has changed for me as Sky has grown. I’ve had to learn to work with my worry, to allow it to be part of me without letting it consume me. Prayer is a big part of that for me.

Lately I’ve been ruminating on Hebrews 11, thinking about how through fear God draws us closer to him. We learn to lean on our faith and trust– our belief in the unseen– to move through fear of things seen and unseen. And it’s startling for me to discover that this is for our good, that we are rewarded in choosing to trust God– by a deepened relationship with him, by the experience of his response to even the smallest details of our lives.

Maybe the forest of doors Kelli writes about is the place we enter after we leave earth. Or maybe the forest is part of our world here and now: God’s kingdom where it interrupts and overlaps with this world. I lock my doors but I try to keep my heart unlocked, to feel both my fears and the intensity of my love for my children. I’m not sure we get to have one without the other in this life.

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Seven series: Food

**This is the first in a series of posts on experimenting with reducing consumption, based on a modified version of Jen Hatmaker’s book Seven. Check out my original post on the challenge for more info.** 

The first two weeks of this challenge coincided with my official start date with a new consulting client, and three big deadlines. So, I didn’t get the chance to enter in daily notes on the challenges. I’ll summarize here.

  • 7 simple meals repeated each week
  • Groceries < $100/wk
  • No eating out
  • Focus on whole foods
  • Make from scratch when possible to reduce packaging
  • Feed others/potluck and share
  • Donate to a food bank

I wanted to use this time to create a repeatable weekly meal plan for our family that would simplify our food expenses and create more time to just be together as a family.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Monday: Carrot ginger soup, simple green salad, homemade bread.
  2. Tuesday: Rice, grilled or poached chicken, a seasonal vegetable, and a homemade sauce.
  3. Wednesday: Baked sweet potato or squash, steamed greens, and slow-cooker lentils
  4. Thursday: Vegetable barley soup with chicken, homemade bread
  5. Friday: Tortilla night (tacos or burritos), slow-cooker pinto beans, sliced avocado
  6. Saturday: Quinoa, baked frozen fish, seasonal vegetable
  7. Sunday: Homemade pizzas or easy egg dish (fritatta, omelet), green salad

For lunches we had leftovers or sandwiches. For snacks, homemade hummus with veggies, apple slices with nut butter, sliced tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs, granola bars, and yogurt with fruit.

So how did we do in terms of our goals?

7 meals repeated each week: For the most part I really liked this. It definitely took the headache out of meal-planning and prep. I like not having to recreate the wheel every week. I often get meal-plan burnout, which leads to me standing in front of our fridge around 5 o’clock, pulling out random ingredients and trying to fashion them into a meal to feed three tired, hungry people, including one hanging on my leg. Having a set menu takes the guess work out, and makes it easy for Lyle to get dinner started when Sky and I are at story time or the gym in the late afternoon.

Some of the recipes need to be doubled in order to provide leftovers (the carrot soup, tortilla filling). I also think a 5-6 meal menu might be more sustainable for us, with one of the meals doubled and repeated during the week (maybe the squash or vegetable soup, which yielded the most). This is just because LIFE. Sometimes we were too exhausted to prep a new meal. Especially while we’re transitioning to a two-income, two-kid family.

A highlight of this process: meals came together so much more smoothly, so we were all seated at the table at about the same time most nights, with way fewer tears/tantrums. And so we started saying a little prayer before meal times. I know this is probably a no-brainer for a lot of families, but it has been hit-or-miss for ours for a number of reasons. It’s a really short, simple moment in our day but it has meant so much to me, especially during the first weeks of September when there was so much pain in the United States and around the world. It was good to come together as a family and offer up our thanksgiving as well as our fears and love for people facing flooding, fires, and possible deportation. Sky caught right onto it, reaching her hands out for ours, closing her eyes and joining us in saying, “Amen.” Now she says, “Mama, say prayer!” every time we sit down to eat something together, even just a snack, and that makes me tear up a little just thinking about it. Thank you, lord.

Grocery spending: I finally did our budget for last month, and we underspent by $100, which is awesome considering we overspent in other categories like charitable donations, gifts, and ahem, clothing (see next week’s challenge…). We’re on track to stay within budget this month, possibly even a little under. We spent $18 over our $100/week goal, and I think the extra bulk basics we bought at Costco is part of that. But that should even out later as we use what we need and (hopefully!) spend less in subsequent weeks.

No eating out: Weeeelll… there may have been two stress-induced Starbucks runs in the last stretch. I’ve been worried about meeting my first project deadline for my new client, and we have an echocardiogram coming up for a possible hole in our baby’s heart. And then there were hurricanes, massive wildfires, and an earthquake this week. So, I haven’t been sleeping well and there were a few early mornings when I just needed to get us out of the house before preschool, with some small amount of caffeine involved. But these two mama-daughter dates over the mutual treats of a muffin and a decaf latte were really highlights of a sad couple of weeks for us.

Otherwise, Lyle and I ate in for all dinners, and I think he only had one lunch out, which was a big improvement for him. He said he really liked having the home-cooked leftovers for lunch the next day. On our sixth anniversary, we packed a strange little picnic and took it to Chapman school to watch the Vaux’s swifts make their annual spirals into the old brick chimney (obsolete but left intact for the birds.) That was a cheap and memorable date night. I really felt God’s work in us as we walked together to the park in the first rain of the season. Lyle has been working late hours and getting up early with Sky to help me with some of my pregnancy fatigue. He’s been stressed at work, and ordinarily we might have been a lot snappier with each other, more irritable. I might even have felt a little dissatisfied with our haphazard anniversary plans: neither of us had much energy to put into gifts for the other, and we cooked up our picnic plan last-minute.

Instead, we both felt really happy just to be together, and grateful for our family’s health and safety. It’s been a scary couple of weeks, and a difficult year for us personally in terms of losing a pregnancy, dealing with extreme weather, and managing our own businesses on top of two-year-old milestones (potty-training, molars, sleep and separation anxiety). I do feel that even the small changes we’re making around food helped us get centered around a predictable schedule and work together.

Focus on whole foods: Yes! I used my Vitaclay slow-cooker pretty much every day for beans, lentils, or rice, and I have to say, the results are WAY more satisfying than canned or stove top. Wow. And so much easier to just turn it on and walk away. However, the return of morning sickness (why??) threw a serious wrench in the plan toward the end of the second week. Maybe it was stress, or dehydration from several days of being stuck inside due to wildfire smoke. But I just felt grossed out by a lot of food, and not very hungry in general. So that made it challenging to stick to whole foods cooked from scratch. I ended up eating cream of wheat, oatmeal, and smoothies a lot.

1st loaf: cornmeal, whole wheat and all purpose flour

Made from scratch when possible: Oh yeah. I really enjoyed getting back into making some of our basics myself. I made two loaves of no-knead bread, four quarts of plain full-fat yogurt, two batches of granola bars, two jars of peanut butter, and a couple jars of hummus. It was definitely tiring, and I need to keep tweaking some of the recipes. The no-knead bread was super easy and delicious. I want to experiment with some lighter sandwich loaves that do require kneading. The yogurt wasn’t as firm as I remembered. I used to make A LOT of 24-hour yogurt with our Excalibur dehydrator when I was healing from SIBO four years ago, and I remember the yogurt being smoother and thicker. I’m not sure if I need to lower the temp, whisk the starter in better, or do a quicker high-heat ferment. So I’ll play around with that. The peanut butter was so-so. I have a super quiet, gigantic food processor that’s just been taking up space in our cupboard, and it grinds to a pretty fine paste– but not as easily, and not as creamy as the grind-your-own at Winco. Plus, Sky really loves that part of grocery shopping. I’ll have to do a price comparison to see if it’s really worth grinding our own at home. The hummus and granola bars were both easy and good. (For the hummus I just blended 1-2 cups cooked chickpeas, ~1/4 cup tahini, 1 tsp salt, ~1/4 cup olive oil, juice of one lemon, and a mix of paprika, cumin, and coriander, adding water until my very old blender could chop it).

Feed others (potluck and share, donate to a food bank): This was a really fun part of the challenge. We had another family over for fajita night and I couldn’t believe how easy and fun it was. They brought cooked ground beef and grilled veggies, and we provided beans, tortillas, and fixings. It all came together really fast and meant we had plenty of time to play with our kiddos, talk, and even take a walk up to the park together.

I also swapped homemade granola bars with two neighborhood mom friends, which was fun, and got invited to join a freezer meal exchange party– that one felt like providence. We also donated to our local food bank and hope to donate to Houston food banks once they reopen after the massive flooding. And I’m excited to start a monthly women’s dinner group later this month inspired by the IF: Gathering.

2nd loaf: flour dusting, all white whole wheat flour

In general? I’m amazed by how much can shift with just a few simple changes around food in our house. And I had to remind myself several times of the purpose in all this. Not to be super mom, but to connect to the Spirit during the ups and downs of each crazy-making day, through being present with my family, my friends, the world around me. I had to be pretty vigilant with my perfectionism that would rear up as irritability when things weren’t going just as I wanted them to. It’s okay to give Sky some pre-packaged fruit pouches and crackers: it meant getting out and connecting with friends at the playground. It’s okay to have that Starbucks date with Sky: it meant sharing giggles with her and gazing at her happy crumb-smeared face before our mutually-stressful preschool drop-off. Each time, connecting to the deeper purpose meant that God was able to do some good work in us, draw us closer to him, and even connect us to people we needed to meet. I need to remember that.

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Jen Hatmaker’s Seven and how I’m adapting it pre-baby

On vacation in August, I picked up a copy of Jen Hatmaker’s 2012 book Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess at a used bookstore. It grabbed my attention and kept me interested over the course of plane rides, nap times, and the few hours before sleep after Sky was in bed. I finished it just before we touched down again in Portland, and as I often feel after we’ve been away for several days, I had a new perspective on our life at home.

I decided to wage my own “experimental mutiny against excess.”

This book is about how Hatmaker spent ten months reforming her consumption habits in seven areas: food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress. For 30 days, she developed new habits for each of these focus areas, then spent a few weeks reflecting and integrating what she learned before moving on to 30 days in the next focus area. The number 7, both because of its sacred significance and as an organizing principle, factored into each of the seven months.

For example, in the first month, she ate only seven simple food items, meal after meal, day after day: sweet potatoes, spinach, bread, avocado, eggs, apples, and chicken. In the second month, she wore the same seven articles of clothing on rotation for 30 days. And in the third month, she and her family gave up seven forms of media. You get the picture.

The purpose in all of this was to dramatically reduce the extra noise in her life so that she and her family could better focus on Christ.

I was really captivated by this idea because it reminded me of similar challenges I’ve set for myself over the years, with one crucial difference. This challenge is about creating room for a deeper purpose, for a relationship with God that is uncluttered by the many comforts and distractions of modern life that can make us believe we are in control, when we’re not; that we’re self-sufficient, when we’re not; and that perfection is possible– when it’s definitely, definitely not.

But so many of the challenges I’ve set for myself over the years have been mostly about all of those things, especially perfection. I wasn’t consciously and deliberately setting out to be perfect. But the frustration I felt when I ‘failed’ at my challenges showed me that I had pretty high expectations.

Most recently, it was the Kon Mari craze that caught my interest and sent me running for my towel drawers to see if I could fold them as beautifully as Marie Kondo. While the lean, minimalist Japanese style of decluttering did teach me a few things about what’s really important to me, it didn’t address the hungers at the center of my life that slowly, inexorably began to draw more stuff back into my life, our home, our kitchen drawers.

I liked Hatmaker’s hands-off approach to this whole thing. Ultimately, she’s not laying out a list of proven rules or strategies. Instead, she’s telling the story of how God used these ten months to teach her about parts of her soul that still need shaping and shaking up. And she’s inviting the reader to make the challenge work for them, prayerfully, so that God can work in the reader’s life in a way that speaks uniquely to their own weaknesses, hungers, and needs.

Because we’re getting ready to meet the newest member of our family in January, I don’t really have ten months to move through the seven areas. Baby will be here in about four months, and I know better than to extend an experiment requiring focus and reflection into the unknown, but certainly chaotic, postpartum period.

So I’m roughly halving it, going through the seven “stations” in a little over two weeks each, with a couple days in between to reflect and regroup.

And because I’m pregnant while running after our two-year-old, I’m adjusting the specifics to meet our needs and limitations.

Food: I’m thankful to be able to eat normal food again, and I also need additional calories starting now to keep up with baby’s growth, so I won’t be restricting my diet to seven items. I like this idea for a future fast, because I know the value of traditional fasting, but for now I thought I’d use this time to create a sustainable, simplified meal routine for our family. Hopefully one that honors our bodies and gives us breathing room for rest, prayer, and each other. My seven goals are:

  • 7 simple meals repeated each week
  • Groceries < $100/wk
  • No eating out
  • Focus on whole foods
  • Make from scratch when possible to reduce packaging
  • Feed others/potluck and share
  • Donate to a food bank

Clothing: I’m entering the cold season and thankfully have winter maternity clothes from my first pregnancy, so that already creates a pretty limited wardrobe. I’m not sure yet how to use the time meaningfully, but I think I’d like to learn about current clothing needs at local women’s organizations, and do a little reading about “ethical fashion.”

The last few categories I’ll keep pretty similar to the book, with a few modifications for our family:

Possessions

  • Give away 7 items each day
  • Source meaningful recipients, not Goodwill
  • Reduce and donate Sky’s toys
  • Go through all closets and backyard shed
  • Read about the psychology of consumption, the buy-purge-buy cycle

Media:  We will be fasting from:

  • iPad/TV
  • Facebook/Instagram
  • Phone apps
  • Radio
  • Texting (necessities only)
  • Internet (work only)

Waste

  • Conserve energy and water
  • Buy food from local vendors
  • Make or thrift other necessities
  • Walk when possible, link trips, and skip trips
  • No plastic baggies: buy reusable ones from Earthwise, find a set of reusable bulk bags I like, and bring grocery and produce bags.
  • Reduce packaging: make yogurt, peanut butter, hummus, granola and bars, and bread
  • Install bidet with baskets of flannel wipes

Spending only at these 7 places:

  • Fred Meyer gas
  • Online bill pay
  • Preschool tuition
  • Savings
  • Donations
  • Fred Meyer
  • Goodwill
  • Read God’s Economy by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Stress

  • Reading and using the 7 sacred pauses. One of these is the midnight prayer, which I’m nervous about. But by the end of pregnancy I’m pretty sure I’ll be up then anyway. 😉

I want to keep a semi-daily log of how things go, and I’ll probably post these sporadically as I go along. A lot of them I will likely set to post after the baby is born, so there will be something on the blog when I have no time for anything but nursing, diapering, playing with Sky, and (maybe?) sleeping. I’m excited to see how God uses this experiment to reshape my thoughts and habits.

Have you read and tried Seven? How did the experiment change you?

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