GOING ALL IN: MY ZERO WASTE JOURNEY

About 8.5 years ago, I made a major lifestyle change by going gluten free. After that, I became more aware about nutrition, green living, ethical consumerism, sustainability, and so much more. Our lifestyle has continued to change over the years little by little. The more I learn, the more changes I implement - it's as easy as that. 

One of the changes that I've been considering and desiring for the last couple years is to go zero waste. I've made some strides and intentional choices, but I so badly want to go all in! I have a reusable water bottle and coffee mug, glass jars, Stasher bags, shopping and produce bags, and more.

My biggest obstacle right now is that Romania is a sachet culture. This means that in order to make everyday items, especially name brands, affordable, they package them into smaller quantities at a lower cost. While it's good and needed, you're also left with an environmental nightmare. Packaging that cannot be recycled or reused goes directly into the landfill. In short, it's helping an economic problem while creating an environmental one. In the bigger cities in Romania, you can find some bulk sections in the supermarkets, but where we are the options are extremely limited and almost nonexistent. I'm hoping to work out a solution soon!

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I try to be very intentional about the decisions I make and not just follow the trends. When I first heard about the zero waste movement, it caught my attention for a specific reason. In India, one of the communities I visit every time I go is located at the city's trash dump. It is one of the most degrading things I've ever seen. People are living next to or in mounds of trash that mainly consist of sachets and plastic. As a result, the smell is horrendous and it is one of the dirtiest places imaginable.  

When I first learned about human trafficking and began to understand vulnerability in general, I made a commitment to myself. I will always choose people over products and my own convenience. You may be asking, how does the trash you produce in Romania have anything to do with the trash in India? But to me, it matters. My trash may not end up in that dump, but it ends up in one here. It ends up in the oceans, and believe it or not, rich countries dump their trash on less privileged ones. It pollutes the air, it kills God's creation, and it creates life-altering consequences for the people I claim to love.

When I try to tackle a new change like this, I never require perfection from myself. If all I end up doing is significantly reducing the amount of trash I produce, meaning that I am never fully "zero waste," I'll be okay with that. I don't want any of the decisions I make to turn into a form of legalism, but I do want to take action and not remain complacent or part of a problem.

These lifestyle changes are simple at the core - it's about making a different choice and being consistent with that choice. And, it takes some serious commitment and intentionality. I'm getting organized right now and will share more about the steps I plan to take soon. In the mean time, I'd love to hear if you've tried going zero waste or have any helpful tips and/or resources! I'm all about not doing this kind of thing alone. We're stronger together!  

 

UNRESTRICTED LOVE

My heart is tired, weary, and broken from the hate, prejudice, and misunderstanding that is happening in our world today. There is a lack of empathy and compassion, both of which are the pathways of peace. Instead, people are choosing to focus on our differences and the wrongdoings of others, both of which produce judgement and fear. 

As I wrote about previously, my 'passion project' this year is to share the stories of people I'm meeting around the world to dismantle some of the wrong ideas and perceptions we have about people who are different than us. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have forgotten that we are all connected; we have each other and our shared humanity in this great big world.

We are humans first, nations second.

Each of us has been created in the image of God with inherent value and worth. Each culture is an expression of God's character and opportunities to learn new ways of doing life. Each country and continent teaches us about God's creativity and His idea of beauty. He called all of His creation good. He called the creation of man very good. We seem to have drifted far away from this truth in 2018 and into the territory of dehumanization. 

Our differences should enrich each other's lives, not be the ground we stand on to justify our division. 

It seems like too easy of an answer to all of this turmoil, but I truly believe that if we love our neighbor as we've been commanded, the world would be a more peaceful place. Understanding, reconciliation, and healing are possible, but it requires the hard work of showing up, being present, learning from others, leaning into their stories, and figuring out the best way to love them. It's not complicated, but it does take effort. 

This is not a solution intended for the government, it's intended for us as individuals. We are the solution. 

Sometimes there is also a great misunderstanding of the heart of God. People believe that others are unworthy to be loved, accepted, and respected because of the things they do, the places they're born, or the religion they subscribe to. Instead of reaching a place of gracious compassion, we allow our prejudice to prohibit our hearts from experiencing the Kingdom of God here on the earth. The Bible states over and over that we are to stand with the vulnerable because this is where we experience Him the most. This is His heart and the heart of true religion. It's uncomfortable and at times unsafe, but it's not about us - it's about His Glory. 

Love is an action; it takes sacrifice and selflessness. It's the antidote to fear, to hate, to prejudice, to misunderstanding, to differences, to every broken and sinful thing this world has to offer. May we be people who will once again believe and see the inherent value and worth of every person. May we seek to know, understand, and help others. May we love our neighbors - especially the hurting and vulnerable people in our midst - to the best of our ability. May we be people who practice what we like to call "unrestricted love." 

My prayer is that this will be the anthem we sing as we march forward into 2018 and fight against the things and ideas that threaten to tear us apart. Just as light overcomes darkness, our love will overcome the dehumanization of others. 

 

SAME AGE, DIFFERENT LIVES

During our last visit to India, we observed our partner organization's new projects and spent time with their staff. They took us on a long walk through one of slums where we met community advocates and learned about families who resided there. One of the first places we stopped was a little home across from their school. As we walked through the doorway, we entered into a small single room house with a dirt floor. It had no furniture, no bathroom or kitchen - it was simply a small little home with four walls made of pieces of tin. 

They introduced us to the woman who lived there. She shared this small space with her husband and three sons. They told us that they had helped this family move off the streets and into this little place in the slum. Her husband was unable to work due to some health conditions, but we quickly learned that there was a lot more to the story. 

She sat across from me on the ground. A mother of three boys, she's been married for 13 years. Her oldest son is 11, her middle son is 6, and her youngest son is 4. They explained to us that she was originally from a village in a different part of the country. She and her husband had been transient throughout their marriage. They lived in train stations and on the streets, working as day laborers. Her husband is an alcoholic and very abusive towards her and their children. He wasn't present during our visit, but I could see the pain in her eyes as she talked about him and the things she has endured. 

Her boys were handsome little guys. The oldest has never been to school because of their lifestyle and lack of money. The younger two are enrolled in the school our partner organization has in their slum. She is currently a teaching intern and will become a teacher for the 2-4 year olds over the next 3 years after proper training and a certification course. 

As I looked around at the tin walls, mats on the ground, and barren space, I couldn't help but feel so heavy hearted for her. Knowing that she is facing abuse, the breadwinner, and responsible for all chores and raising her boys, she has a lot on her plate with no support. I tried to encourage her as best as I could. I told her how proud I was of her for taking this opportunity with our partner and having her younger two in school. I told her to stay strong and thanked her for allowing us to spend time in her home. But as we were preparing to leave, I had one last question for her. It's as if I instinctually knew the answer, but needed to hear her say it. 

"If you don't mind me asking, how old are you?" 

She smiled and said, "29." 

I exclaimed, "me too!" We smiled at each other and held onto this thing that we shared. 

I think about her almost daily. I've not been able to shake her or her story from my mind. We are the same age, but have lived completely different lives. I come from a loving family who was able to meet my needs, provide me with stability, and give me higher education. She was married at 16 and has lived a life of homelessness, abuse, and extreme poverty.

Despite our differences, for a split second, I could feel our similarities. Two young women with potential and possibilities in front of us. For her that means becoming a teacher and finding stability for the first time. For me that means furthering my nonprofit and going deeper into the unknowns of loving and restoring this hurting world. Either way, we're just two 29 year old women trying to make our way through this life. We couldn't be more different, but we also couldn't be more alike. 

2018 PASSION PROJECT

Over the last few years, I've had the privilege of meeting people all over this beautiful world and hearing their stories. Meeting new people, sitting in their homes, sharing a meal or cup of tea together, this has changed me. It's made me more compassionate, more empathetic, and more understanding. This is not a privilege that I take lightly and one that I want to steward well. I'm constantly surrounded by people and stories that inspire me and transform my heart.

As I look at our divided world, I can't help but think that if more people could hear the stories and experience breaking bread with people who are completely different than them, it would change the world as we know it. I've wanted to capture and share the stories of people that I'm meeting and the cultures I'm immersed in for the last couple years. 2018 feels like the year to do it.

Images by Caryn Noel

Images by Caryn Noel

I might be an idealist, but I hope that this small gesture of sharing stories will change our hearts and minds, challenge stereotypes, and ultimately restore identity and dignity to those who are desperately misunderstood. We don't have to give in to the "us vs them" mentality. We don't have to live divided, fearful, and judgemental. No, we can live in a world where we invite, accept, and relish in our differences. This is how we fight against division and move towards unity. It's how we fight against hate and move towards true, unrelenting love for others.

This is a passion project for me; something that compliments what I'm already doing. I'm praying for courage to share with my whole heart what I'm learning and experiencing from the incredible people that God has placed all over the world. I hope you enjoy the stories that will come from this little passion project of mine and pray it changes you like it will me.