March 18, 2014
Loving this from Henri Nouwen this morning.
There are many forms of poverty: economic poverty, physical poverty, emotional poverty, mental poverty, and spiritual poverty. As long as we relate primarily to each other’s wealth, health, stability, intelligence, and soul strength, we cannot develop true community. Community is not a talent show in which we dazzle the world with our combined gifts. Community is the place where our poverty is acknowledged and accepted, not as something we have to learn to cope with as best as we can but as a true source of new life.
An appreciation for my own poverty has been powerful as I seek to engage in helping others out of poverty. It brings me to a place where I’m not coming to help with my own house completely in order. It brings me as a co-sojourner. It brings a humility that says “You and I are both poor- just in different ways. Let’s learn from each other.”
December 12, 2013
We have a $200 Christmas budget this year. I feel neither sad nor deprived about this. We’ve been leaning into simplicity over the last few years in order to focus on what’s important. This is just an extension of our goals around voluntary simplicity or frugality. How did we get to the $200 amount? It’s the amount that we have in our virtual Christmas envelope. Let me back up a few steps. Charlie and I have been fundamentally pro-budget since we’ve been married. Over the years, as Charlie’s income has gone up, our spending to the budget has declined. We would do a budget, track our spending, but then mostly use it as a tool to look back and see how we did. We had considered going to a total cash budget, but we were both enthusiastic about travel hacking and maximizing airline miles on credit cards. Thus, we put off the cash budget.
We have periodic budget meetings. Over the last few years, they’ve been (roughly) quarterly and mostly grim. In other words, we spent more than we wanted to. We were continually frustrated with ourselves. I usually brought up the cash budget, and Charlie usually wanted to continue to try to get our acts together financially and optimize airline miles. Over and over again, we seemed not to be getting ahead. Not saving as aggressively as we wanted to, although we knew that we should be able to with Charlie’s income. In early autumn, Charlie did some detailed analysis for our spending over the last year. What he found made us both get a catch in the gut. We were actually spending more than Charlie’s salary. I know. Rookie problem. The reason we were able to keep going and not go into debt is that we were making ends meet using his bonuses. Our lifestyle didn’t seem over the top to us. It just seemed sort of normal. Normal for Menlo Park. Which is to say normal here is different from “normal” in other areas. Menlo Park is the hub of venture capital. So, there’s a lot of money here. People have a lot of cool stuff. Really big, nice houses. Cool cars. Which is all fine, except that it can distort your sense of what is actually normal.
This is where my being involved with poverty alleviation gives me a bit of perspective. Being involved with issues surrounding poverty helps me remember what’s true. What’s true is that most people on the planet live in a space the size of my dining room. What’s true is that access to clean water is considered a clean water source less than a mile away. With that definition, 345,000,000 people still don’t have access to clean water. What’s true is that if your family earns $35,000 a year, you’re in the top 1% of global income earners. So, I can look at Menlo Park and set my norms based on that. Or, I can learn about what is actually normal for the majority of the world and re-set my norms based on what I know to be true.
This has led our family to an attitude of abundance. I recently took an on-line class from Brene Brown. It was wonderful for so many reasons. One of them was that there was a ton of emphasis on practicing gratitude. Practicing gratitude is different from “trying to be grateful”. Practicing gratitude is like practicing yoga. You actually have to make yourself slow down and be grateful. There is a mindfulness and an intentionality. Sit down and write about those things for which you are grateful. Write them down. Look at your list. Ponder it and add to it. Once you start down the rabbit hole, you find an unending list. I know where my next 365 meals are coming from. My kids never go to bed hungry. I have shelter every single night. I have central heat. My kids have access to a great education. I’m married to a man who I deeply love and respect- and who feels the same way about me. We live in a safe neighborhood. I have five places in my house where you can turn on a tap and get fresh, drinkable water . We have access to hot water whenever we want it. I don’t even have to heat it myself. If my kids are sick, I take them to the doctor without even thinking about it. Which is to say, we are rich. There is plenty. There is more than enough.
This attitude of abundance was incredibly helpful when I looked at the $200 in our Christmas envelope. Knowing how good we already have it, I can look at our $200 budget and realize how rich that is. Because we started our new budget on November 1, we only had two months to save for Christmas. Thus, $200. Next year we’ll likely have more money to spend. That being said, I like our Christmases to be quiet and peaceful. There is so much to gaining white space in your Christmas. I’d love to hear from you in the comments on how you’re slowing down or spending less during this holiday season.
Click on my other posts below on slowing down during the holidays.
September 18, 2013
In the autumn of 2008, our family went to L’Abri outside of Boston. It was a watershed few months that has changed the trajectory of our family’s story. During our time at L’Abri, we lived in one bedroom. While it was snug, it was also sweet. It was all we needed. We had a small bin of toys and some basic homeschooling supplies. We were all living in one room, and the kids were happy as clams. We have such sweet memories of waking up early and sipping our coffee in the L’Abri library as the wood stove took the chill off the autumn New England mornings.
We had been struggling for years with various issues around God and faith. When we left L’Abri after three months of study, we were changed people. We believed down to our toes that God loved us and that He had come for us. We were grateful not only for heaven in our future, but for the here and now. This changed everything. It changed how we viewed money. It changed how we viewed our time. It changed our view of careers and giftedness and children. It rocked our world in a wonderfully life-changing way that messed up all our plans. In a way that we totally wanted to get on board with. It changed what we wanted. Because we wanted way more than the American dream of the big house and fancy car. Now we wanted in on God’s plan of redemption. Now we wanted in on making the earth a more just place. Now we wanted in on preventing human trafficking and on chipping away at poverty.
Charlie and I both remember the moment. He had been out of work for several months, which precipitated the trip to L’Abri to begin with. We had been living quite contentedly in this one room at L’Abri. We were shaken with gratitude to our cores. Grateful to be loved by God. Grateful to have a faith that we could look our kids in the eye and defend. We were grateful for a new perspective on life. Grateful that God had changed our hearts. Expectant for what God was going to do. So, there was this moment when we walked back into our hilltop house in the Bay Area. This house that Charlie was having stomach pains over. This house for which we were in debt up to our eyeballs- and would be for the next thirty years. This house that I loved with our garden, honeybees and chickens. And, it was just all too much. Too much mortgage. Too big. More than we needed. This was the moment when we started wanting less.
Halloween at L’Abri
Snuggled up in our room at L’Abri
It took a while to listen to that. We were mortgaged up to our eyeballs, and the real estate bubble was freshly busted. We knew that we were going to lose a ton of money. And we did. I’m convinced that God doesn’t pry our hands off our money. But, I felt Him asking us to open our clenched fists. Slowly, we felt them begin to unclinch. I began reading Proverbs and Ecclesiastes daily. Praying for wisdom and a Godly perspective on money. We began to read books and blogs on Minimalism. Charlie and I both felt the financial loss. 2 1/2 years later, it still stings. Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I love Dave Ramsey. I love budgets. I love financial planning. But, this was a time when we felt God calling us to clear the deck and start again with less. We felt God calling us to trust Him with our finances. We were fortunate to take a tiny sum out of our house. While it was a difficult financial loss, we were grateful not to leave the house in debt.
As we got the house ready to put on the market, we started our journey to less. It was painful and relationally costly at times and wonderful and freeing. We got rid of silver tea sets and antique furniture and dressers and chairs. By the time we moved out of that house, our load was about 50% lighter. Since that time, I would guess that we’re down to about 30% of our original possessions. While it hasn’t been easy, it has been good. It’s allowed us to live well in our 1100 foot rental. It’s allowed us to run our small business within this small space. It’s allowed plenty of room for games and for homeschooling. We have plenty of room for our backpacking equipment and soccer gear. It’s allowed mental space and more peace. It’s brought about simplified wardrobes, simplified art supplies and a simplified budget. But, we have plenty of room for those things that we find beautiful or useful.
We still talk about those early L’Abri mornings around the fire. They are a sweet memory etched into our minds. Because they represent what we want. Shelter. Warmth. Relationship. Faith. Messy community. Intellectual stimulation. Meaning. Literature. Art. Beauty. Work worth doing. We want more L’Abri in our lives and less frantic. More relationship and less financial stress. More family and less workaholism. Less distracting stuff and more of the good stuff.
We’re not sure what’s next for our family. But, we are looking forward to the journey.
September 2, 2013
We’re going back to the drawing board to come up with some new scents. I would love to hear from you about what you would like. We would love to delight you. I’m starting with sweet orange and peppermint. What else would you like to see? You can see our current offerings over at our web store.
If you comment below, you’ll be entered in a drawing for a bar of our lemongrass soap. It’s our most popular scent, and I hope you’ll love it. We’ll do the drawing on Thursday.
July 10, 2013
I love this piece from Creative Heart Studio on Etsy. This is my prayer for my daughter. This is my prayer for all women. This promise of strength and dignity. It is the destiny for which we were created. It was marred by the Fall, but God wants to restore us to this dignity. And we get to participate in that. This is my prayer each time I make soap. May it bring dignity and strength and redemption.
June 19, 2013
Here’s a snapshot of my day yesterday.
Elizabeth: I can’t find any clean underwear.
Me: Get some out of the dirty clothes and turn it inside out.
Elizabeth: [confused silence]
Me: For real. Get some dirty underwear, turn it inside out, and put it on.
Here is the reality, my friends. Last night, we had chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese and frozen peas for dinner. All of the above resulted from a run to Trader Joes after we finished swim team photos at 6 p.m. Frankly, this is just how we’re rolling right now.
Yes, this is the tension of crunch time.
I knew it was going to be tough. While most of the US is adjusting to the freedom of school getting out, the Simpson household is in a crunch. All our choices. None of it is happening to us. All good things. None the less, it’s stressful. Very unromantic. Not shiny at all. We’re in week two of our homeschooling year. We’re in the midst of soap production for our first whole sale order. And, we’re in the heat of our church’s extreme poverty focus for the summer.
The art is doing all of these things without my family taking a back seat. Without my husband feeling like he is a distant last place to all the other demands in my life. How to do it all and make sure that there is actually milk in the fridge and that dinner will actually appear on the table at the appointed hour?
It’s funny. Not funny as in amusing, but funny as in interesting. When my commitments heat up, my need for boundaries is most acute. My need for my own mental health and for the relational and functional health of my family. In order for my priorities to be to God first and to my marriage second, I have to learn to say no to good things. To things I believe in. As a woman who I respect said, “you have to learn where your no is”. I’m grateful for a church environment that respects and encourages healthy boundaries- even boundaries with church. I’ve been doing a ton of work in this area over the last couple of years, but it’s an area that I have to be vigilant about.
I’m tempted here to give you neat and clear bullet points about how to manage, but the truth is that it would just be talk right now. The truth is that I’m trying to figure out how to do it. The gritty truth is that life isn’t lived in bullet points of how to live in the midst of competing demands. It’s an art, not a science. It has everything to do with following God in a messy imperfect way. It has everything to do with the mish mash of learning to say no. It’s the messy discipleship of being in relationships in ministry. When our issues are coming up in the context of ministry, God’s fingerprints are all over that. I think when our stuff is coming up and being dealt with, God is in the midst of that. Frankly, I think that’s what healthy church looks like. Messy, dirty, relationally smudgy. It’s struggling through the real, daily life in living with Christ, family, church and friends. I’m beyond grateful for all of these things. Beyond grateful to be working with church leadership that would be the last to lay a guilt trip for saying no. But, you know, it’s just messy. I keep waiting to be done. To arrive. But, I don’t think it works that way. I think that instead I keep being reminded of my need for a Savior. I keep needing to be around people who are gracious with me in my bumbling attempts to live in the messy tension of family, God, church and friends. So, yes, I guess my bottom line is that once again, I’m brought around to gratitude. Grateful to have work worth doing. Grateful for my family and friends. Grateful that God keeps reminding me about how much I need Him. I’m grateful that I’m loved by God, family and friends in the midst of my brokenness. Because that brokenness, I think, is just the reality of how things look while we’re here on earth.
May 28, 2013
Charlie and I took the kids for a quick overnight backpacking trip on Friday night. We had a great time, and we were anticipating a leisurely day on Saturday of working on projects that needed our attention. As we were getting our gear unloaded, the kids were playing. Charlie was using his prized swiss army knife to cut a piece of wood. The blade sprang closed and cut a gash in his index finger. Neither Charlie the Elder nor I saw this happen. Charlie the Elder came outside and saw the knife lying on the ground. He looked over and saw little Charlie hunched over and asked him what was wrong. Then he saw. As I came into the kitchen to see what the commotion was, I saw Charlie the Elder holding little Charlie with his hand under running water to begin to get the wound cleaned and to see how serious the cut was. I went to the medical kit to get supplies to tend his cut.
As he bled through one then two then three layers of gauze, Charlie the Elder was able to get a good look at the cut. It was deep, gaping open and bleeding profusely. As I got a good look at it the next day when we first changed his dressing, I saw that it started on one side of the finger tip and went all the way through the other side of his finger. Anyway, I quickly called the pediatrician, who told us to take him to the ER.
I stayed at home with Elizabeth while Charlie the Elder took little Charlie to the Stanford ER, which is about a five minute drive from our house. With my chest pounding with compassion for my little man, the most profound thing I felt was gratitude. We had just run gallons of clean water over his wound. I was grateful that they would be using sterile water to clean his wound. I was fairly confident when he left that he would indeed have to get the shot and stitches that he so feared. But, I was grateful that they would numb it. Grateful for the antibiotic ointment and sterile gauze that they would use to dress it. Grateful that we have clean water and all the supplies needed to keep the wound clean until it heals.
Grateful because it doesn’t always wind up like this, and I know it. I know that in many parts of the world, people are on their own to deal with these injuries. With good healthcare often several days’ walk away, and with a lack of clean water, these injuries often become more serious than they need to be. I look at his gash, and I ponder how long it would take that wound to heal without stitches. I don’t know- a long time. It went about half way through his finger. Without clean water and clean dressing, there is a pretty good chance that a wound like that would get infected.
So, as I looked at my little boy getting swept away to the hospital by my husband, I was profoundly grateful. Because I knew that he would be ok. Because I know enough about poverty to know that it doesn’t always play this way- the way it plays with access to clean water and great healthcare. Because my heart breaks for the mom and dad who wonder how their boy’s hand is going to heal. Because my heart breaks for the little boy who is afraid because of his hurt hand that just isn’t getting better. So, I’m grateful for the outcome for Charlie. Due to how deep the cut was, the doctor said that there was nerve involvement. He has some numb places in his fingertip. While we’re praying that the nerve re-connects, we’re sober and grateful. And we’re committed to being involved in alleviating poverty so that more kids have an outcome like Charlie’s. Poverty strips people of the dignity that is afforded to all humans as beings made in the image of God. I think one of the reasons we’re here is to be involved in bringing that dignity back- including the dignity that comes with access to clean water and basic healthcare.