Archive for September, 2009

Dreams Have Value

IMG_5808

When my husband and I visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary earlier in the month, we fell in love with our overnight dog, Julep. We took her on a ride down to Jacob Lake, took her hiking, and had a nice meal on the patio of a local restaurant. Julep was wonderful, and we immediately saw her as fitting right in with our family.

The next morning we filled out an application. It felt like a really big step, because Julep would need to have a yard. Which would mean we would need to live in a place with a nice yard for her (unlike our current apartment). That’s okay, we thought. We were planning on doing that anyway. I dreamt of our new home and our new dog, raising our kids with this friendly and mellow boxer. It was a nice dream.

The problem, though, was that Julep hadn’t been cat-tested. And we have two very loved cats as part of our family. So, the adoption coordinator told us, they would let us know how Julep did when she was introduced to cats.

I was told this morning she did not do well. In fact, she did so poorly in her cat-test that Best Friends simply doesn’t feel comfortable adopting her to a home with cats. Period. Which I actually really respect and appreciate, both for Julep’s sake and for our cats’.

But I admit to being very sad, too.

Sometimes the dreaming is the important part in the process. Often when I dream of possibilities, I let my heart get carried away. I realize this about myself. Yet, at the same time, I know that even when these possibilities don’t materialize and my heart breaks for it, I continue to expand within. I don’t regret letting Julep into my heart. I may feel a deep loss at what might have been, but I don’t regret it. Because my heart is better for loving a little bit more.

The dream itself has value. And, in my heart, I hope it had value for Julep, too–I hope she knew how much she will be loved by some family, some day.

IMG_5812

PS…If you are interested in adopting sweet, wonderful Julep–or any other animal from Best Friends–you can learn more at http://adoptions.bestfriends.org/.

Advertisements

Stuff Diet in Review

From September 17, 2008 until September 17, 2009, Robert and I decided to go on a self-entitled “Stuff Diet.” Here is a quick overview of what that “diet” entailed (taken straight from the document) and some of our reflections on how we did.

The Stuff Diet Explained

Our Intent: An attempt to exercise our preferential option for the poor by recognizing the role of consumerism in our lives, our participation in it, and our attachment to it. This is our attempt at lessening that attachment.

Actions Involved: 

  • Restrict purchases of new items
  • Avoid products from corporations that do not have an ethical focus or operate locally
  • Simplify our living space by recycling, selling, or donating items that we don’t use or use and feel called to share with others
  • Anything purchased outside of textbooks and/or food needs (and items necessary for safety), to be discussed with the other person before purchase
  • Develop a budget that allows us to: (1) live within our means; (2) save money to pay down debt, and (3) donate to worthy causes
  • Take inventory of our entire home, identifying items that can be sold at a garage sale, donated, etc.
  • Commit to taking an inventory of at least one room a month
  • Limit eating out to special occasions (family birthday, etc)
  • Require a one day waiting period on all purchases (other than food, household necessities, or time-critical items)

Category Specifics

Food: 

  • purchase locally produced food
  • make weekly menu/shopping list to avoid over-shopping
  • waste as little as possible
  • clean out pantry of things not used/unusable
  • donate unnecessary cans in pantry
  • once all donate-able items are gone, buy 1 food item per shopping trip for food donation

Clothing:

  • No new clothes purchases with the following exceptions:
  • underwear
  • socks
  • walking shoes
  • clothes bought with gift cards (see below)
  • necessary clothing items, as appropriate (worn out belt, etc.)
    • Thrift shop/fair trade/ethically produced clothes may be an exception if discussed with other and 1 day rule applied
    • Material for sewing clothes okay

Entertainment/Media:

  • No new CDs/DVDs
  • No new downloads unless they are free and legal
  • No new magazine subscriptions/cancel unused ones
  • No non-educational software for computer unless health related
  • If we are going out for a celebration, commit to sharing a plate
  • No movies except for celebration/invitation purposes

Electronics/Tools:

  • No new electronics except to maintain functionality of current computers
  • Only new tools allowed are ones that are necessary to continue to sew clothes

Education: 

  • Textbooks for classes okay
  • Textbooks that supplement course load okay
  • Educational software okay
  • School supplies okay provided they are not available in any form at home

 Cosmetics:

  • No new cosmetics except to replace used up or unusable cosmetics
  • Any new purchases should be cruelty-free where possible

Trips:

  • Trips okay under following circumstances:
    • special occasions (Congress)
    • visiting family or friends
    • school
    • spiritual nourishment

Health/Medicine:

  • No restriction on prescribed drugs or vitamins
  • Commitment to go to doctor when necessary—no skimping here
  • Cat health included in allowances
  • Gym membership okay unless deemed otherwise by mutual agreement
  • No new fitness purchases

The Stuff Diet in Review

Overall, I think we did very well for a first-shot, sustained crack at something like this. One year is a long time! Although we weren’t able to do everything exactly as we had hoped, we did a heck of a lot better than if we hadn’t decided to undertake the Stuff Diet in the first place.

Not being able to buy new clothes whenever I wanted was a surprisingly hard experience for me. I didn’t realize how often I bought new clothes. Certainly not every weekend or anything, but I definitely was used to getting a new outfit or two every couple of months. More than once I had to recognize that I wanted it but didn’t need it; furthermore, it caused me to take stock and appreciate the clothes I would come home to.

Speaking of clothes, I was surprised to realize that I, like most Americans, was only wearing about a quarter of the clothes in my closet on any consistent basis. The clothes I wore, I wore a lot, and about 1/3 of my other clothes were usually “specialized” types of clothes, meaning, only for a particular season (I had a lot of jackets), or for a special occasion (I had a lot of dresses). Since my knee surgery, I didn’t wear high heels as much anymore, yet I had plenty of them in my closet. So after several trips to the Good Will and lots of honest closet scrutiny, I finally got to a place where I could say I wore most of my clothes, most of the time. Still, every time I go back to reconsider if I could take more to the Good Will, I find at least 4 or 5 pieces that I’m holding for silly reasons, so this is a constant process.

We didn’t do so well with the inventory taking, although we did do some of the house. We did the living room and the kitchen as well as our guest bedroom–I suppose that covers about half our stuff, because it leaves our bedroom, the office, and any common areas or yard stuff. Inventorying was an interesting thing, because I wrote down every single thing in the room. Every. Single. Thing. Then, on the right hand side, I had written columns about how much we want the item (on a scale of 1 – 10) and how much we need it (same scale). When we inventoried our kitchen, we ended up taking 12 boxes to the Good Will that day. So it was an important exercise, one I hope to continue.

As far as food, we followed our argeement in ways that were certainly unexpected to us. We joined a CSA, began to develop relationships at farmer’s markets, and became very good at planning our meals to reduce waste. The one thing we didn’t do very well was to buy an item with each shopping trip to donate to our church’s food pantry. We cleaned out our own pantry and donated a lot from there, but it didn’t really become a conscious part of our food shopping. It’s something we’ve both talked about and are going to try to work on as we move forward.

Electronics, health, and trips more or less followed our agreement. We did probably eat out more than we anticipated, but we started sharing a plate almost every time. This has had side benefits as well; it just feels more intimate! So in addition to appreciating the dish together and collaborating on what to choose, we also truly share the meal. It was a beautiful aspect of the agreement.

I’m going to wrap up, because it’s time to head into class. Suffice it to say the Stuff Diet was enlightening and challenging, and we are working on how to move forward with what we have learned in continuing a lifestyle of more simplicity and consciousness.

Autumn

IMG_5903One of my favorite parts of our Utah trip was being able to be present to the onset of autumn. The southern part of the state had just begun to see its early nights of frost, especially in the higher elevations (this was taken at around 9,000 feet).  It seemed a sacred thing to be present to this shift, the Paschal Mystery of the earth, when inherent in the dying is the promise of new life to come.

I often wish that Southern California surrendered to this cycle more deeply, but there are few trees here that become brilliant in the autumn. It just never really gets cold enough. Perhaps this is why I cherish the opportunity to witness it in person. I had a deep reverence for the process of it all.

Sometimes I wonder if I am not patient enough with the natural seasons that cycle through my own life. Certainly it can’t always be summer–the fun, lazy days. And likewise, no winter is forever, even when I can’t seem to get warm enough in front of our fireplace. Perhaps autumn is so bittersweet because its beauty inevitably means a dying back, and yet it is impossible to see autumn without knowing that its counterpart, spring, will burst forth like a phoenix in less than half a year’s time. My own personal cycles of autumn–of the dying back, even when I can attest to the beautiful colors of my inner transformations–sometimes feel overwhelming, and I forget the promise of spring. All I can think about is hunkering down for the winter.

Yet the colors, I think, are in part a reminder to be present–and to acknowledge that all things bow to the passage of time. Even the hard parts.

With every autumn, then, there is inherent hope…even when the bittersweetness dominates the landscape. Hope transcends, because it is part of the cycle. It’s part of the promise.

Stillness

IMG_5362I think that one of my favorite parts about being in Southern Utah was the stillness that descended upon us both. We were removed, inaccessible by phone, email, facebook, twitter, and anything else that could threaten to preoccupy us, to tear us away from the awesome glory that lay before us with each new journey.

Stillness, it seems, is one of the best ways to approach prayer. With stillness comes openness. Stillness forces us to listen to the small, still voice of God.

Stillness enveloped us as we traversed the rim of Bryce Canyon, as we descended into the forested paths surrounding the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and as we listened to the chorus of crickets as we watched the heavens one night in Zion National Park.  The stillness called to us, served as an invitation to something deeper. There was more there than just pretty scenery.

God’s presence was palpable in those moments, because we were accutely aware of the inner longing that resides in us all–the longing for a deepening, the ache for the beauty of a sunset, the beautiful surrender of self into the larger whole of creation.  For, indeed, stillness doesn’t mean absence–far from it. The stillness here was accompanied by a fullness of senses that is often whitewashed by city noise; here in Los Angeles, there is no house that is far from the hum of a freeway or, in our case, the low rumble of jet engines taking off and landing at a rhythmic pace. In the stillness, though, the whisper of the wind could not be ignored, nor could the small scurring of a ground squirrel. Each aspect of creation seemed to get its due air time. Nothing competed to dominate in the natural inhale and exhale of the earth’s daily activities.

It is this stillness that I continually long for, and I have since riding the ski lifts next to my mom and dad as a young girl. I remember hearing that blessed silence, broken only by the wind through the pines. I think part of me has sought to reconnect with that stillness since my youth. Perhaps that is why my reconnection with the church happened on a silent retreat. The stillness is necessary, because it is natural. It is balanced and reverent. A mutual respect amongst all created things of each expression of life and energy.

Now that I am back in Los Angeles, I am trying to tap into the inner stillness that I know still exists despite the whir and hum and honk and crash that I hear outside. But the little girl in me still longs to find that space in the woods where the only sound is the wind whispering…where I can hear the small, still voice without straining against the competitive voice of the city.

Back

IMG_5801

Well, I’m back. 10 days, and one of the most memorable and enjoyable vacations of my life. It was relaxing, inspiring, filled with hope, and nourishing to my soul. And while I long to go back (and still be on vacation), I also feel content with what I had. It was enough.

I’ll be posting pictures and writing a little about all we did. Sorry I wasn’t able to do it real-time…most of our nights we were exhausted and the internet connection was spotty at best. But I’ll try to fill you all in.

Rob and I have also passed the one-year mark for our Stuff Diet, so we’ll have an update on that soon as well. We’re in the midst of reflection and consideration, thinking about what worked well and what didn’t, and how we would like to move forward as a couple in continuing our journey toward simplification and solidarity.

So stay tuned…more on the way.

Deepening Relationships

IMG_5562

Today we spent the day volunteering with the horses at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. It was physically demanding–15,000 steps on my pedometer at 4:30pm–and deeply rewarding. We learned of the passing of some of our old horse friends, and were introduced to some of the newbies to Best Friends. We spent time with those we had connected with before as well as those whom we’d never met. We mucked, groomed, watered, fed, socialized. We cherished every moment.

We felt a palpable consistency with the theme of deepening relationships in our lives. We’ve worked so hard to build relationships with the farmers of our food and to be in solidarity with the unseen laborers who make our very household possible. But this was a new expansiveness, one that we began to touch on during our visit in March and now is beginning to deepen.

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it holds–Scripture reminds us of this. We are all in relationship with other co-inhabitants, other co-creatures. By spending time amongst the glory of the earth (so obvious in Southern Utah) and with such a wide variety of creatures large and small, we are more intimately knowing our creator. All things reflect God in one way or another. Today, we were privy to God’s majesty, God’s sensitivity, and God’s controlled strength, all through our time with the horses.

Grooming is quite an intimate experience, and I felt blessed to be able to be so close to such powerful creatures.  It was a good day.

The Journey Begins

 

“Every now and again take a good look at something not made with hands—a mountain, a star, the turn of a stream. There will come to you wisdom and patience and solace and, above all, the assurance that you are not alone in the world.”  –Sidney Lovett

Yesterday my birthday began with waking up at 5am mountain time–4am Pacific time–but I wasn’t consumed with sleepiness. Instead, I was filled with excitement…not for my birthday, but for this newest chance to see the power of God’s creation in the world.

We left the hotel while it was still dark, traveling north on the I-15. The air was thick and warm, probably around 85 degrees. As we drove, the sky began to lighten in the east. I felt a deep sense of anticipation. The sun rose this way every day, but today I was utterly present to the advent of its coming. It felt different.

We stopped in Cedar City for gas, and the air was noticably cooler. We decided to press on and munched on a banana from the hotel lobby. We wanted breakfast to be special, to reflect the specialness of this day.

As we turned eastward on the 143, which would take us to a 10,000 ft. summit around Brians Head ski resort, the dawn was insistently present, and we could see the beauty of the small homesteads that we passed as we headed up the mountain roads. We climbed, climbed, climbed…and soon began to see that the trees around us were showing the first signs of changing.

IMG_5243

In some places the earliest snows lightly dusted small patches on the ground. It was marvelous. We passed various mountain communities, stopping at a small restaurant in a fishing campground. It was cozy, overlooked the lake, and filled our stomachs with food that would sustain us throughout the day.

We continued on. Every new turn added beauty upon beauty. We couldn’t believe that at the end of this road we would be visiting Bryce Canyon on top of it all!

IMG_5268

When we finally reached Bryce, we had meandered through the mountains for over 3 hours. Every moment felt like a blessing.

Bryce was a whole new kind of wonder. We decided to hike the rim of the canyon. The best part of this trail was not all of the “scenic points” that the trail hit, because while those points were breathtaking, they were also always within easy access to a parking lot and lots of point-to-point tourists. The best parts, rather, were the segments in between these tourist locations. The trail was almost completely empty in these spaces, leaving us to drink deeply of the vast expansiveness of the brilliant red and pink hoodoos, the slot canyons, the pines. The holy silence that accompanied our time with the canyon was intimate and raw. It demanded our attention, respect, and reverence in a way that a crowded tourist spot just couldn’t. We dwelt in the space and gave thanks.

IMG_5301IMG_5314IMG_5293

It was here that I realized that there truly is a difference between dwelling in a place and visiting it. To dwell is to participate in it, to become intimate with it. To appreciate it in a way that doesn’t make it a “vacation spot” or photo opportunity. To visit a place has the unavoidable aspect of separation, of “us” and “that place.” To dwell connects these two and blends the lines so that we are all enfolded in the same light: we are creations of God. We all reflect and convey God’s majesty in different ways. None is superior except by our own perception.

The word that is often translated “to dwell” in the Gospels more accurately means “to tabernacle.” I think this gives us a better sense of what dwelling really means; to pitch a tent, to form a connecting bridge between heaven and earth. How different our world would have been if Jesus simply visited it, rather than dwelt in it.

This is not to say that visiting a place is bad. But I felt sad that more people didn’t take the time to dwell there. I saw so many people come, snap the picture, turn around and go back to the car. And it made me sad that they wouldn’t be able to dwell with the canyon a little longer.

When we returned home, it was dark once again. We got back on the road as the sun dipped behind the mountainside. The day ended as it began, with the sky changing its hue to embrace a new part of the daily cycle. We came home, happy and exausted, blessed to have dwelt together in this magnificent world.

IMG_5366