Monday, June 02, 2008

A Stirring

When Erik and I got married we had no intention or desire to settle down in the USA and live the typical North American lifestyle. I had just returned from nine months in Asia, and Erik had spent time teaching English in Yemen. Our plan at the time was to return together to the Middle East where we would live and work. There's a line in a movie we recently watched that said something like "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." 
And so we married and settled into life together in our little duplex. We "knew" we'd only be there temporarily and we lived with that in mind. Instead of registering for a large set of dishes I bought mismatched ones from thrift stores. We drove little old cars that got us where we needed to go. We were very happy in our simple life together. We soon realized the group Erik had worked with in Yemen wasn't going to be the best fit for us as a couple, but we still had every intention of going. I got pregnant with Peregrine right away and we looked forward with joy to his birth. And then, a week before he was due, we learned Erik had cancer. He had surgery, I had a baby. He went through radiation and we then looked ahead to years of follow-up to be sure the cancer was truly gone. We knew our dream of going overseas to live would have to be put off for a few years, but we continued to hold onto it.
Little by little though, we grew comfortable here. We bought a house and traded in our little car for a minivan. Erik got into a three-year apprenticeship at the utility company. In a few more months he will be a journeyman substation wireman, something that could possibly be used in another country. We've seen God's hand in giving him this job and we're very thankful for it. But with it, we've settled a little more. Our spending seems to increase with his pay. I found a set of dishes I really liked; they have paisley designs and remind me of my beloved India. We've had a couple more kids and collected a whole lot more stuff. We live five minutes away from my parents and both my sisters. I love being so close to them. 
So yesterday we were talking, Erik and I. We realized that somewhere along the line we lost sight of our goal. We're living, in a way, the North American dream. We are happily married with three kids, a minivan, a commuter car, a tent trailer, a home in a quiet cul-de-sac, a stable income, close family, a good church, good friends. Now don't get me wrong, we are very, very thankful for each one of these blessings. But we slipped into this comfort zone and are living a pretty typical life here. We started thinking about the things we'd really like to do and how we can make some changes in order to do them. 
Even if our dream of living overseas never fully materializes, we'd like to have the freedom to travel more, to spend a few months here or a year there living in other countries. We'd love to be able to go visit friends who are missionaries, to help them out in their work, to encourage them, and to expose our kids to different cultures. We have friends in India, Yemen, Quatar, Italy, Haiti (soon), Costa Rica.... And while we are living here, we want to be way more intentional about keeping it simple. (Which, I think, is the opposite of keeping up with the Joneses.) We want to rethink the way we're living, how much stuff we really need, to consider more carefully the things we own and the things we buy, to think about whether or not we really need them, to consider the impact the making of that stuff has on other people's lives, communities, and the environment.
I think we've lost sight of sacrifice, of giving something up now, in order to attain a goal later. It's really what the Christian life is like, but I think we often separate it into spiritual and material compartments. I read somewhere of a family with several children, (I think it was 8 or 9) who dreamed of building a house without going into debt. They are living in a garage, all of them, and building their home as they can afford it. They are making a serious sacrifice of space and stuff, in order to realize their dream of owning their home outright. This kind of thinking is really challenging Erik and I right now. What do we really want? More importantly, what kind of lifestyle does God want us to live? And how do we get there from here? 
One of the things we think a lot about, is Erik being able to work independently, not to be tied in to a 40-hour a week job. In order to really make this a reality, we need to be willing to live on less than we do now. This is possible, but we need to be intentional about it. Our dreams go on from there. We talk about crazy things, like living in a yurt, or spending a year traveling around the US in an RV (or a converted school bus!). What better way to teach US history to the kids? Wouldn't it be great to build some sort of alternative home, like an earthbag house, or a strawbale one, or a yurt, and power it with wind and solar energy? To be able to work together as a family on a project like this, to grow more of our own food, to be less dependent on this culture and all of it's stuff? We don't just want to accept the status quo of our culture! 
So, we've decided to make a few changes, to start trying to think differently, intentionally, about what we want in life, about simplifying things, about consuming less and having more time, energy, and resources for what is really important to us. We're going to start going through our stuff and getting rid of some of it. Just last night I went through most of my kitchen cupboards and filled up two boxes with stuff I just don't use. We all have way more clothes than we need, too. I read of one family who had a set amount of items for each person for each season. I like this idea a lot- I need to think about it a little. How many long pants, long shirts, etc. is reasonable? Our drawers and closets are overflowing with clothes, way more than we need, and it really just complicates things. What else? Toys, books, things we keep around because we might need them someday. There's so much we can get rid of! 
We want try to replace consumable items with non-consumables. For example, I just switched to cloth diapers. I'm loving them, and so very happy not to be buying, and using, disposables. I'm getting ready to make some cloth baby wipes to go along with them. What else can we replace? I'm excited about beginning this process of simplifying our lives. I know it's just that, a process, and I don't really know where we'll end up. But something is stirring in our hearts, and we'll see what becomes of it. I'll be sure to keep you posted!
Do you have any ideas for living more simply? I'd love to hear them! 


  1. I knew there were many reasons why I covet the position of your friend!

    And this is the latest reason.

    We too have thought about following our dream of being able to travel whenever we want to, on a smaller scale than international, and we hope that that is within site of us now....

    I appreciate your thoughts and look forward to seeing them unfold in the coming days.


  2. Anonymous8:28 PM

    I loved this post. It is a lot like what we are going through right now. I am itching to get to my closet and we have been talking about really scaling down. We just had the at our house. I think you would like to read about what they are doing. I am also looking into a compost. Please let us know about your ideas.

  3. wow, Rebeca, you sound like you've been living in my head lately. Why is it that so many of us follow this path from being so sure of our calling to living simply, serving overseas, etc and then find ourselves ten years later with kids and a mortgage and big car and just being so SETTLED?!
    I remember when Cory and I met I told him we could get married but I was going to be a missionary, was he sure that he wanted to do that with me? "Oh," he said, "I'M going to be a missionary, are you sure you want to do that with ME?" So we thought it was all set. Finish school and head out to foreign lands...
    Well, just a few weeks ago I finished reading a book by Shane Claiborne called the irresistible revolution. About his life working and living with the poor in inner city Philadelphia. Someone asked me what insights I was getting from the book and all I could think was "He's living the life I thought I would be living by now!"
    We have been doing a lot of "soul searching" I guess, looking to see where we can make some of the same changes you are talking about and asking the Lord to bring us back around to a clarity of vision of life with him.
    Thanks for sharing your journey. It helps to have support along the way! Love you guys.

  4. The frustrating thing is that most/all the groups that sponsor short term missionary trips do not allow children under 18!! I know, I've checked. I've had a wandering heart all my life- my husband does not. I want to go on short term mission trips but I'd rather do it so I could take my children and give them the taste of missions work.

    To your question. I find that living simply for us has been 2 steps forward 1 step back. We're constantly living between being TOO comfortable and trying to "unload". I would definitely recommend living as though you're about to move out...what would you throw away?? what would you keep? Then do a purge.

    Also, trying to make from scratch as much as possible (I bet you already do a lot of that). I've learned how to make bread, wine, and soap (actually I've been on a soaping kick and hope to share it on my blog soon). I try to buy meat from small farmettes, but that can be expensive. I've tried veggie garden but without much success (deer, groundhogs, and chipmonks)and raised laying hens in suburbia. This year we're trying a planter garden. We'll see.

    There are so many good ideas and, I'm sure, great websites about simple living or homesteading. I bet they have ideas you can use even in your suburban neighborhood.

    Good luck and definitely keep us posted!

  5. Such stirring and throught provoking words! Yes, it is so easy to 'settle in'; I understand. I am excited to see where the Lord leads as you look for ways to simplify! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rebeca!

  6. Thanks for stopping by and saying Hi!
    Your story sounds like ours in many ways. I have been simplifying our stuff...things and activites lately.Even in homeschool circles we have backed off doing so many things. Running to the next thing is not living.
    Our life changed dramtically since my husband started working from home. I count it as such a gift and blessing.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts


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