By Ginna Parsons
TUPELO – In the fall of 2012, three women from The Orchard’s congregation in Tupelo decided to embark on a spiritual adventure.
For one month, they would subsist on seven foods (plus water, salt, pepper and olive oil).
The idea came from Jen Hatmaker’s book, “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” In the book, Hatmaker targeted seven areas in her life that were out of control and decided to rein them in.
The areas were clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media and stress.
“Seven months, seven areas, reduced to seven simple choices,” Hatmaker wrote. “I’m embarking on a journey of less. It’s time to purge the junk and pare down to what is necessary, what is noble. ‘7’ will be an exercise in simplicity with one goal: to create space for God’s kingdom to break through.”
World of excess
Merissa Rambo, Anna Polsgrove and Liz Beavers are all young mothers who have part-time jobs. They have husbands and play dates and carpools and households to manage.
And they were all comfortable in those middle-class lives – perhaps a little too comfortable.
That’s why all three were eager to read Hatmaker’s book and try her experiment.
“We started with the chapter on stuff, possessions,” Rambo said. “What she said in the book was to give seven things away every day for a month.”
Food came next, in January 2013. Hatmaker gave suggestions in her book of the types of foods to keep in your diet for a month, based on a good balance of protein, calcium, fiber, vitamins and minerals and good fat.
All three women chose six of the same foods – chicken, eggs, sweet potatoes, apples, whole wheat bread and spinach. As a seventh food, Polsgrove chose beans, Rambo picked avocados and Beavers opted for almonds.
“The point was to remove things to let God show us more of him,” Polsgrove said.
“We live in a world of excess,” Beavers said. “We go to the grocery store and have so much food at our fingertips.”
“It made us aware there are people who don’t have the options we do,” Rambo said.
All three husbands were supportive during the month, even though they didn’t always adhere exclusively to the program. And because there were children involved – the women have eight little ones among them – menus had to be adapted for growing bodies.
“I was the one doing this strictly,” Beavers said. “My husband was very supportive. He might have chicken and spinach, but he might have another side. One day, I laid on my kitchen floor and cried and begged my husband to get me a pizza. But he didn’t.”
“Friends would invite you out to eat and you realize, ‘Is there anything there I can eat?’” Rambo said.
“In some ways, it was easier as far as meal planning,” Polsgrove said.
Oh, the cravings
The women got creative with their menus. Beavers made apple shakes out of ice cubes, apples and water. Polsgrove put sweet potatoes and black beans on whole wheat bread. Rambo used mashed avocado as a sandwich spread.
But a lot of their meals actually sounded quite “normal.”
Breakfast might be an omelet made with spinach and whole wheat toast. Lunch was often a spinach salad with sliced apples, shredded deli chicken and boiled eggs. And a warm dinner could be roasted chicken, baked sweet potatoes and sautéed spinach.
“Food is my go-to,” Polsgrove said. “I eat when I’m sad, happy, bored, celebrating. After a while, I didn’t want that sweet potato or that piece of chicken and I had to find something else to do with that emotion. It made me more mindful. I was like, ‘God, thank you for that sweet potato’ instead of, ‘Yuck. Another sweet potato.’”
During the experiment, all three women admitted they had cravings for certain foods that were at times unbearable.
For Beavers, it was pizza, “with the works, Vanelli’s-style.” For Polsgrove, it was coffee and Mexican food. For Rambo, it was sweet tea and peanut butter.
“But I actually lost about five pounds,” Polsgrove said. “I felt really good, because I was cutting out processed food and a lot of salt.”
Three more to go?
The women next tackled the spending chapter, where they spent money with only seven vendors for a month. Then they moved on to media, where they gave up TV, gaming, Facebook and Twitter, radio, Internet and texting, unless the texting was related to work.
“Then summer came and we thought we’d pick it back up last fall, but we didn’t,” Rambo said. “We might still finish it, and we might not.”
The three chapters they didn’t get to were clothes (wearing the same seven clothing items for one month), stress (pausing seven intentional times a day to pray) and waste (living a greener life by gardening, composting, recycling, etc.).
All three women said they would go through the experiment – even the food experiment – again in a heartbeat.
“The whole thing brought a lot of people together who were not in each other’s circles,” Rambo said. “It made us aware of people outside our tax bracket.”
“We really heard from God through all of this … love God, love people,” Beavers said.
“It made us feel good to serve God the way he wants us to,” Polsgrove said. “There are days when I don’t eat healthfully and I don’t feel good and I know I need to eat better – real food – and get rid of the stuff that’s crowding my life again.”