7 Challenge, Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, And My Own 7 Challenge

I should have read this book a long time ago.

Any book with a number in the title scares me. I try not to be too limited in my thinking, but I must admit that math gives me a panicky feeling. I know this is illogical. I try to talk myself out of it: I got an A in Algebra 2, for crying out loud! Apparently, the 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excesseffort that A took left its scars. Big ones. I would rather give a speech to 2,000 Nobel Prize geniuses than repeat a single week of college Pre-calculus. Maybe it was due to my aversion to numbers that I hadn’t really considered reading Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, though I’d heard a lot about it. Then some of my friends started sharing her blog posts on Facebook. I read them, and that was all it took for me to say, “Okay, I have got to read this woman’s book.” I’m really glad I did.

I love Jen Hatmaker for making a thought provoking, challenging book that is so hilarious. I laughed out loud right in the midst of my musings on how catastrophically out of whack consumerism and starvation is in the world. (Okay, to be honest, I would have laughed, but my heart has been heavy due to a tragic event in our church family. That I kind of laughed should be a testament to how funny Jen Hatmaker is, because I was having trouble reading through my swollen eyes, and that is not an exaggeration).

Note: From here on out, I’m going to call Jen Hatmaker just Jen, because she’s that personable and I don’t think she’d mind.

7 is a challenge that Jen gave herself to live with less in several different areas of life.  The challenge areas are: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, stress. Each challenge lasted for 4 weeks. Her main premise is that our culture as a whole is “trapped in the machine of excess.” Her desire was to “fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.” I’m in agreement with Jen. The American Dream has gone from a desire for freedom to a desire for way more than we need. And it happens to be sucking the life out of us, one overworked, overeaten, over stimulated hour at a time. What’s worse, it’s sucking the life out of entire nations who aren’t getting any relief from their suffering because we’re too fat and happy to notice them. I’m talking about me, not you. Or maybe that is you, too. Whatever the case, this book was life changing for me. So much so, that I am beyond thinking about this stuff and ready to take actions. For each of Jen’s challenges, I’ve come up with a version of my own.

Food

Jen’s challenge:  Limiting herself to 7 foods.

Yes, just 7. My first reaction to this was, “WHY?” I came to see that she wanted a concrete way to discard the burden and the blindness that her love of food was putting on her life. I was more drawn to the challenge that several of her friends gave themselves for the first month: to pick seven of the world’s most poverty stricken countries and eat like an average person from that country for three days. They picked Haiti, Ethiopia, Uganda, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cambodia, and Sudan. Jen and her friends came to understand more about their misuse of the food abundance in America and came away from it with a desire to do more for those who don’t have enough. Jen also realized what an idol food can become.

My challenge: Pick my own impoverished countries that I feel particularly burdened for, research their average food intake, and eat like them for one day each. I wish I could do three days, but I’m a mom of littles, and I don’t want my family to suffer a grumpy, malnourished mother. (Who am I kidding, they suffer the grumpy mother regularly). I’m still working on fleshing out this challenge, because I’d like it to include a way to transfer my eating less to some hungry person eating more. Also, I’d like to add a book to my reading list about each impoverished country I choose. If you have any ideas, please tell me!

Clothing

Jen’s challenge: Wear 7 pieces of clothing for four weeks.  Her discoveries about how she views clothing and how she expects other women to view her clothing were enlightening. Her honest evaluation of her excess clothing made me think twice, for sure.

My challenge: Part 1 — Clean out my closet and give the excess to refugees. Part 2 — No clothes shopping for myself for 3 months. I think this will be an easy challenge, because I don’t really like to shop. I ignore clothes to a fault sometimes. You know, that moment when you realize you have nothing that fits the bill for the event you’re attending in, oh, less than half an hour. I don’t think about what clothes I need. Except for those new boots I promised myself last winter…. However, I think it will be an interesting challenge to share with my four-year-old daughter, who is a budding Fashionista. (Help.) I need to think through ways I can show her how abundant her clothing is and how some little girls have next to nothing.

Possessions

Jen’s challenge: give seven things away every day for a month. And not just to Goodwill, but to tangible people who will benefit from Jen’s entire family’s acknowledgement that they have way more than enough.

My challenge: Same as Jen’s this time. I’ll be honest–I’m a little worried. I keep our house at a minimum of stuff to begin with.  We get rid of things all the time. My husband hears “Hey, can we get rid of this?” on a regular basis. Still, our house feels cluttered. But the point isn’t to de-clutter the house. The point is to find good things we don’t truly need and give them to people who do really need them. I’m hoping to connect with a ministry that supplies refugees with basic household items for this month’s challenge and the clothing challenge.

Media

Jen’s challenge was a good old-fashioned media fast from everything not work related. I always think this type of challenge would be a no-brainer challenge for me. I don’t watch TV, what’s the big deal? But her challenge included blogs, Facebook, sports news, and everything else not work related. Yikes. No sports news! There would be troubles. However, I’m going to try it.

My challenge: Limit my media to certain times during the day. I will allow myself to read blog posts from 6-7am. I will check/post to Facebook at 10am, 2pm, 9pm, or not at all. No internet surfing at all until after the kids go to bed. Otherwise, my media will only involve work-related or research related usage. My e-mail will have to be a continuous thing because it’s my main form of communication, but I think I can limit it to checking it every hour to two hours. And it’s football season, so…sports can’t completely go unless I want to spend hours away from family and friends on the weekends. Football is king in South Carolina, people. But I do plan to seriously limit it.

Waste

Jen’s challenge: seven habits for a greener life.  I’m summarizing it as a serious cutback on waste and use of natural resources. Before you roll your eyes at the liberal tree hugger, please know that I happen to be a conservative tree hugger. I was totally convicted by this chapter. Give yourself a chance and you will be, too. It’s sad to me that people who believe God doesn’t exist are so often the only ones concerned about God’s creation. I can’t put it as well as Jen does, but I hope you read this part if no other part of 7.

My challenge: get Ella out of pull ups at night, buy less prepackaged food, recycle everything possible.

Spending

Jen only allowed herself and her family (her husband was on board for all of this, by the way)  to pay money out to seven vendors, two of which were online bill pay and her children’s school. This translates into no eating out, no shopping for fun, no family outings that cost money, etc.

My challenge: Don’t buy stuff.

No, seriously. I’m not shopping for anything outside of basic food and household needs like toilet paper. No home goods, no clothes, no potentially life changing organizational tools, no the-neighborhood-needs-my-flower-beds-to-be-beautiful plants. I’m going to have to choose this month wisely. We’re coming up on Christmas…this will have to be an after Christmas month. Which brings my grand total of months I’m not shopping for clothes in this challenge to four. This is going to be interesting…

Stress

Jen’s challenge: Keep Sunday as a true day of rest and pause seven times a day for prayer and reflection.

My challenge: Stop clothes shopping.

Oh, I kid. My challenge will be to (1) Become a planner and (2) Set daily goals for my gratitude journal.

Much of my stress is caused by not planning ahead for things. Just this morning, I totally stressed my kids out with trying to get to MOPS on time (didn’t happen). I didn’t have anything prepared. It’s no coincidence that all the moms got a nice little reminder email about labeling sippy cups and bags this afternoon from the childcare workers–see, I’m spreading stress to everyone by my lack of planning! Those poor childcare workers. Anyway, the goal is to plan for the next day the night before.

The other part of the stress challenge is based on Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare. I have kept a gratitude journal for a long time, but I’m too sporadic for thankfulness to truly take root in my heart. Thankfulness isn’t thriving in me yet. I think stress would be obsolete if I could be grateful in my waking moments. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly stressed person, but then I think about the discontentment, the insomnia, the way I get fed up with the mess I live in, the inexplicable nightmares I’ve had since childhood, and I think there’s definitely proof of stress. The beauty is I truly believe it doesn’t have to be there. I’m going to strive during the Stress month of this challenge for peace that I know is attainable.

So there are the challenges for the next seven months. I’m eagerly looking forward to tackling (most) of these challenges. My overarching desire is to find ways to positively help those who really need it. I don’t want to just simplify and clarify my life. I want to relieve pain in others’ lives, even oceans away. I hope you will cheer me on and give me ideas on how to do this when my brain is too consumed with the self control to not…buy…another…book!

If you have the wherewithal to read this droning dribble about my 7 Challenge, then I guarantee you will enjoy the book 7 so much more. It will make you laugh and remind you that you have the power to make a difference in this world. And if you want to join me on my own journey, you’re more than welcome.

Nonfiction, Parenting, Reading, Reviews

The Artist’s Daughter

If you’re a part of a Mother of Preschoolers (MOPS) group, chances are good you’ll be hearing about The Artist’s Daughter in the coming months. I am helping to start a MOPS group this Fall and so I had the privilege of reading the copy that came with our coordinator’s welcome package. I thought it was a great book, and I can’t wait to discuss it this spring with our MOPS group. (MOPS Plug: If you’re in South Carolina and interested in a MOPS group, let me know!)

The Artist's DaughterThe Artist’s Daughter is a memoir by Alexandra Kuykendall. Here’s the description from Goodreads.com:

“When Alexandra Kuykendall became a mother it was the beginning of a soul-searching journey that took her into her past and made her question everything she’d experienced–and a lot of what she hadn’t. The only daughter of a single, world-traveling mother and an absent artist father, Alexandra shares her unique quest to answer universal questions: Am I lovable? Am I loved? Am I loving?

In short, moving episodes, Alexandra transports readers into a life that included a childhood in Europe, a spiritual conversion marked more by questions than answers, a courtship in the midst of a call to be with troubled teens, marriage and motherhood–and always, always, the question of identity. Through her personal journey, women will discover their own path to understanding the shape of their lives and a deeper sense of God’s intimate presence within it.”

I was surprised at what a page turner this book turned out to be for me. Kuykendall writes with such honesty and infuses a desire to change and help others change in her writing. I related to her as a person, even though her family situation is nothing like mine. The importance of accepting yourself, embracing your identity, and relying on God in parenting is a key component to the memoir. Kuykendall also writes about how important her support system (a MOPS group) is to her parenting journey. I don’t want to say too much because I hope you’ll read this one for yourself! If you liked Jeanette Walls’s memoirs The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses, you’ll like this one, too. It doesn’t contain the stunning situations or details Walls’s memoirs include, but it is a well-written memoir about a daughter coming to terms with a parent as she becomes a parent herself.

 

Nonfiction, Reading

Happiness For Dummies (or Geniuses): A Review of Two Books on Being More Joyful

Disclaimer: I’m pretty slow when it comes to reading nonfiction. I have a pile of books on my nightstand at any given time, and the one that stays the longest in that pile is always the nonfiction book. On a side note, it would be more accurate to call my nightstand and the floor space beside it “The Stacks”. Please tell me I’m not alone in this. Well, I know I’m not, because you should see my dad’s bedside table. I don’t even know why we have tables next to our beds. Bookshelves would be so much tidier. Anyway, I am always in the middle of a nonfiction book. This is not  because I’m particularly scholarly, but because I read nonfiction at a snail’s pace (can snails read?). There’s no “scope for the imagination” in it. I like to think it’s because I’m really mulling over all the facts and advice that I’m taking in when I read nonfiction, but usually it’s just because I get bored with it quickly. It’s kind of painful to admit that. But there it is. However, there are some non-fiction books that I find enthralling. I’ll write about two of them today.

In my last post, If I Were A Facebook God, I wrote about how discouraging some Facebook statuses are on Monday morning. I, maybe rather frustratingly, spoke of finding some “joy sugar” to sweeten the hard days. I realize I may have left some of you wondering how in the world one finds that stuff. Well, there’s no way for me to explain all that on a book blog. Already, some of you are probably wondering, “When is she going to talk about actual books?” Enter, some self help books.

I don’t pick up many “how to” books. And any book that has “dummies” in the title is a book I don’t really want to read. Publishers would do better to appeal to my pride with titles like “Knitting for The Moderately Bright.” However, I’ve read a couple of books that have changed my perspective or helped me realize what perspective I need to take on being joyful in life. One of these is based on the Christian perception of joy (that happiness is based on circumstances but abiding in God and His love brings joy in any circumstance) and one is a non-religious book that equates joy and happiness as pretty much the same thing.