Packing Light {Interview with Allison Vesterfelt}

I’m very excited to be hosting an interview with Allison Vesterfelt, author of Packing Light, (which I reviewed here). She writes about the cost of following your dreams, and she is a lovely person to accompany you on any sort of journey. We have one copy of Packing Light to give away for FREE. Just leave a comment, saying what you would most love to do if money, health, and circumstances were no object. Here’s my interview with Allison:

Tell us a little about yourself, and the place you grew up.

My name is Allison, but you can call my Ally, and I grew up in Portland, Oregon. I love Portland and I will sing its praises until the day I die. If you haven’t been, it’s just one of the most beautiful and interesting places you’ll ever visit. The one interesting ramification of growing up in this area, however, was that I always felt a strong tension between my faith (my parents were involved with a missions organization, and I grew up going to church) and the culture that felt so natural and normal to me. I loved Portland and all its quirky weirdness, and I loved Jesus, but I always felt like those two things didn’t love each other, so I felt a little bit caught in the middle.

I knew from the time I was very young I wanted to be a writer, but when I would tell people what I wanted to do they would always say, “that’s nice, but you better have a back-up plan since you can’t make any money as a writer.” So I decided my back-up plan would be to teach. But before I knew it, my back-up plan became my whole life. And there came a moment where I had to decide — was I going to keep living this life I thought I was “supposed” to live? Or, was I going to take a huge risk and try to build the life I really wanted?

How would you summarise what the book is about? What does ‘Packing Light’ mean? 

Packing Light is about letting go of the things that are getting in the way of living the life you really want to live, the life you feel like God has called you to live, and even the life you feel like He made you to live. This looks really different for everyone. For me, it meant selling all of my things, moving out of my apartment, quitting my job, and traveling across the country to visit all 50 States. So I had to let go of all kinds of physical possessions and emotional baggage and insecurity or self-doubt in order to do this. But I think that for some people it can simply mean letting go of toxic relationship, or unrealistic expectations they have for themselves, or the idea that “success” is defined by pleasing their parents or owning a Pottery Barn couch.
To discover what you need to let go in order to become the best version of yourself, I think you have to ask yourself a series of questions: 1) What do I really want (in the deepest part of me)? What do I think would give my life deep meaning? 2) What is getting in the way of me achieving what I really want? 3) Am I willing to let it go?
You did a crazy 6-month road trip round the USA with a friend, covering all 50 states, living out of the back of your car and friends’ hospitality. What were the things you were surprised to miss, and what were the things you were surprised you didn’t miss?

I was surprised how little stuff I actually missed. I missed people more than anything. But as far as my stuff goes, I was actually floored by how little stuff we owned — just what fit into the trunk and backseat of my Subaru — and how sometimes even that stuff felt like too much. I learned how little I truly need.

But I did miss people. Life on the road felt lonely to me at times, and I felt disconnected from my community, which was going on without me while I was gone.

And if I had to list some physical possessions I missed I would say I missed having a dresser (living out of a suitcase got old after awhile). And I missed having access to little luxuries like new shoes, frozen yogurt, and lattes. I think the experience taught me to see those things as what they were, though — luxuries. I think it helped me to see how I had grown to feel entitled to them, and helped me reset my expectations. And, most importantly, they were a small sacrifice for what I gained… a deeper sense of meaning and passion in my life, stronger character, patience, empathy, etc.

How did your relationship with God change through that time? 

I think it just forced me to start really living what I believed. If I really believed that God was capable of anything, and that He cared for me deeply, and that He created me uniquely and specifically for a purpose — why wasn’t I living like I believed that to be true? Why was I chasing a career that didn’t feel good or natural to me? Who was I trying to impress? So going on this road trip forced me to put my money where my mouth was so-to-speak. It required me to take action.

The other thing that happened was it made me desperate for God. I hadn’t felt this way very often before because I very rarely lived without things I needed. I had always provided for myself. And what happened when I gave up my resources is I realized what it felt like to really need God. I needed him to provide for me, not just physically (with food and shelter and money) but also emotionally. I was so far outside of my comfort zone, so deep in the mess of my own brokenness, lost without my usual self-protection and coping mechanisms (like my strictly regimented schedule back home). I needed God to come and meet me in a real way.

And it happened. He did it. He met me. When I stopped providing everything I thought I “needed,” God started to provide for me, and He provided things I didn’t even know I needed. He met needs I didn’t know I had. In a weird way, I feel like my relationship with Him really started in this space, even though I had been a Christian my whole life.

If you were to do that time again, what would you do differently?

I would trust God more. I would lean into what He was teaching me. I wouldn’t swim around in my insecurity and self-doubt for so long, making decisions that were ultimately destructive to me. I wish I would have learned what I learned sooner.

Imagine you met your younger self today, deliberating about whether to go on this trip or stay in your secure job. What would you say to her? 

I would say, go. For heavens sake, go. Quit sitting around waiting for life to happen to you. What are you so afraid of? You can choose to stay home, and it might be easier and more comfortable, but let me give you permission to do what you really want to do: go. You will encounter obstacles. It will be hard. But life will be hard either way. It might be difficult for a reason. You might as well have life be “hard” but have purpose.

allyvestAllison Vesterfelt is the author of Packing Light: Thoughts On Living Life With Less Baggage. She blogs at and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
Over to you:

  • What is your dream? If money, health, and personal circumstances were no object, what would you most like to do with your life?

LEAVE A COMMENT to enter the Packing Light giveaway draw. I will pick a name at random from the commenters on Weds 2 Oct 7am BST, and email the winner to notify them.


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23 Responses to Packing Light {Interview with Allison Vesterfelt}

  1. Sherry Kay Dyck 27th September, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    In Aug of 1985 when I was 12 and our family had just begun a year of “furlough” (my dad was a pastor in an isolated community in northern Quebec) my dad started off his morning with the usual prayer of surrendering his family to the Lord…but this time it felt more intense…later that day our whole family was in a car accident that took the life of my mom and 16 year old brother. That changed the course of my life forever. We moved west, relocated a couple of times and this shy little blond girl who was so immersed in the cree culture that she actually thought in Cree, was forced to come out of her shell and make new friends in a new school 3 times over. I began to experience depression in high school but didn’t know what it was until years later after the birth of my first daughter. After looking and dating and praying for years I thought I had finally found the man of my dreams in Winnipeg where I moved after a year of bible school in Texas. He gave me a promise ring and we chose a date and took invitation photos…and then he went off to Bible School and found the real woman of his dreams and married her the same month he and I had planned to marry. I became good friends with 2 friends who’d also been “dumped”…and one of them was a godly man who patiently won me and my family over and we very happily tied the knot on a blustery Winnipeg winter day in 1995. After a year of “marriage bonding” we dove head first into ministry within a small living room community church. It was at that point that I noticed my dear hubby began to be ill for no apparent reason. Eventually we had 2 beautiful girls who were very difficult babies and my struggle with depression deepened. As our church grew, so did out commitment and involvement and pretty soon my hubby was cutting back his hours at work so that he could volunteer more, even though we were only living on his one income. Eventually the Lord led us to take a giant leap of faith and my dear hubby quite his job as we believed God was calling us into full-time ministry. Not everyone agreed with our vision…reluctantly our church hired him but only as a “missionary” meaning we had to raise 100% of his salary. That’s not too difficult for one year…but when it turned into two, people lost interest and he was forced to take on another part-time job that was very high stress. His health began to decline quite noticeably and he was forced to quit that part-time job. We had always believed that our girls would do best if I stayed at home with them so that’s what I did but it was so very difficult as I struggled with depression and purpose. Eventually I was asked to help in our church’s admin area and that woke up my senses and gave me a renewed purpose in life…finally I was helping more than just my own family…it felt great! Until the only other people who knew the “system” both announced they were leaving. I felt I was called to take it on and was hired but with next to zero training and no formal education. At the same time a new position was created that my husband was perfect for and he was hired as well. Life was good! Until my request for an accountant wasn’t met and the enormous pressure of fixing past mistakes and making future decisions for a 700+ church took their toll and I plunged into severe depression…I’d literally be sobbing at my desk all day. My husbands health continued to decline and so did mine. Eventually I was given some help at work and my depression lifted for a time but hubby continued to decline ’til he finally had to quit work. That was my breaking point…that was when my dreams and hopes of a healthy family and a hopeful future came crashing to the ground and I wept and wept for days as I mourned the loss of our dream and became terrified of what our future might hold. Over 3 years later and hubby still does not have a diagnosis, is still unable to work and is often bed-ridden. No diagnosis means no assistance whatsoever. A toxic work environment and difficult home situation caused my health to crash over and over again. 2 years ago I prayed a very dangerous prayer, realizing I was familiar with some kinds of suffering but not all. I shaved my head and asked God to show me what it means to be judged, to be ostracized, to be on the receiving end of stigma and racism. That was a very dangerous thing to do because God answered. The past 2 years have been hellish. We’ve walked through abandonment, spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, false accusations, poverty, suicidal thoughts, terrifying health breakdowns (I have tasted death numerous times), a week in the psych ward due to friends’ betrayal my spiritual beliefs, 14 months of wishing every single day that I could die but feeling trapped because I loved our girls too much, marriage breakdown due to porn addiction and various other toxic behaviours, separation for 3 months, rejection by Mayo clinic for my husband (they have no further tests to offer), continued utter abandonment by church leaders even though I’m still technically on staff, fibro/USpA/asthma diagnoses for me, shattering of my faith and belief systems over and over again…and I could go on…but I won’t because as horrific and terrifying as these years have been…I can honestly say that right now, I am thankful for them…I am thankful for the despair, for the hopelessness, for the anxiety & depression, for the coming to the end of myself and my faith, for the shattering of my dreams and expectations…because now, though my body is shutting down, I finally have hope again…God is reworking my faith in Him. Almost 2 years ago He asked me to completely surrender my family and I was shocked and terrified because I knew the significance of that because of what Dad lost so many years ago when he surrendered…but after the terror came utter joy as I realized that finally, after years of begging and pleading for a realness of faith, He finally brought me to the place of complete trust in Him – and it was a pivotal moment. Doubt and pain and horrific despair has followed that, but I can finally see clearly once again and know that the verse God gave me the moment I was told that my mom was dead…Romans 8:28…really is true…its just that our version of “good” doesn’t always line up with His because our timing is off…we can’t see it. I’ve spent years doubting God…I even came so far as giving up on Him about a month ago…and then He opened my eyes once again and helped me to see that He really was there all along the journey…I just couldn’t see Him through the fog of mental illness and abuse. I have tremendous hope now…even if my body continues to shut down and my dear hubby continues to deteriorate…we all die someday…and God has proven over and over that He WILL walk with us, especially our beautiful girls. My dream, if money were no object would be to finally be able to move to the country for the sake of our 12-yr old who is such a country girl at heart…in Alberta so I we could finally be close to my family…to be able to run or help with a ministry to wounded Christians…to be able to lead worship with me on the drums, one daughter on piano and the other on guitar…to get answers and healing for my dear hubby who has suffered intense unrelenting pain for so terribly long…to find healing and reconciliation on our marriage and to be able to offer hope to others who struggle…to have enough money so that we don’t worry each month about losing our home…to have enough money so that I can feed my family healthy nutritious meals…but above all to never lose sight of my God again. Thank you for letting me rant and ramble and share…thank you for your encouragement.

    • Tanya 30th September, 2013 at 10:12 am #

      Oh, Sherry. Woah. I am so blown away by your story. You have gone through and endured SO much. I ache for your husband – I know only too well that pain and distress of not having a diagnosis and being alone in your illness with no help from the medical community. And I am amazed by your strength in continuing on throughout years of abuse and debilitating depression. I am praying for you and your family and lifting you up before God today. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  2. Julia Cheung 27th September, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Love the interview.

    The greatest growth indeed happens in the hardest places.

    • Tanya 30th September, 2013 at 10:04 am #

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Julia! I can definitely testify that growth happens in hard places.

  3. sandra hughes 27th September, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    I loved reading this, and identified with some of it. At the beginning of 2011, I told God I was throwing everything in my life up to Him. Nothing was working out, and I couldn’t see any solution, having tried many. It is amazing where I am now. It was very tough, and I had to confront many of my fears, but God was with me throughout, and as always in times of trouble, I felt much closer to Him.
    My marriage ended, I lost my house, I was made redundant, I have ME. BUT, I am happier than I have been for more than 20 years. All my ex husband’s debt was paid off by the sale of the house, and the bank held off re-possessing it, whilst my daughter and so-in-law purchased it. And offered my youngest daughter and I a home with them for as long as we need.
    My ex husband left the country as I expected him to once I said I couldn’t go on any longer, and left me with all the debt. Or should I say, left me with God sorting it all out.
    I had been unfit for work for a very long time, so I was thrilled at being made redundant, and felt sure it was part of God’s plan. I have finally been able to start painting and drawing again, after 20+ years, once a week, at an amazing Art studio, with lovely folk, and I’m now waiting to see God’s plan for my future. Jeremiah 29: 11 and Psalm 37 encouraged me through these years.
    I have often thought that God would use my Art and writing together. I’m happier and stronger than I have been for years, in spite of the limitations of my health. At 61, I am enthusiastic to see what each day brings. 🙂

    • Sherry Kay Dyck 27th September, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

      thanks so much for sharing a glimpse of your story…similar to mine in many ways and gives me hope!

      • Tanya 30th September, 2013 at 10:04 am #

        I’m so glad you found a kindred spirit in Ally!

    • Tanya 30th September, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      Sandra – this is such an incredible story. To lose so much in one go sounds horrific – and yet I can totally see how God has brought so much good from it. It’s brilliant that you are able to write and paint now, and I hope that God will continue to give you wholeness of body as well as soul. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  4. Lizeth 27th September, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    great post! If if if if if if… I would take the first plane to Kenya and start the children’s home I’ve always dreamt of having. I’ve scouted the land and looked at many self sustaining models, I guess I would take the plunge and just go for it.

    • Tanya 30th September, 2013 at 9:59 am #

      Oo! This sounds so exciting to me! I love Africa, but I’ve never been to Kenya. I bet there are a whole lot of children who need some love and protection in Kenya. What an amazing dream.

  5. Mark Allman 27th September, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    I think sometimes I have concentrated on pursuing the life I want to live instead of what I think is more important and that is what kind of person do I want to be. I wonder if I pursue that more then the kind of life would take care of itself? I don’t know.

    • Tanya 30th September, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      This is such a wise question to ask ourselves – thank you for posing it here. You have got me pondering it myself.

  6. Rebecka 27th September, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Great interview! I follow Ally’s blog and I always enjoy her writing.

    My dream? To travel, and to act. Preferably at the same time. 😉 I used to study drama and languages. I love words and stories and my dream is to combine these things in someway that touches people. Maybe filmmaking.

    • Tanya 30th September, 2013 at 9:57 am #

      Wow – I didn’t know that you were an actor! That’s fab! Filmmaking sounds like an amazing way to combine all your passions. That would be really cool.

  7. Allan Dickinson 27th September, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Great article – but I think that the challenges are somewhat contradictory: “how do you live the life that God has called you to” and “if money, health, and personal circumstances were no object, what would you most like to do with your life?”. The real challenge for me is recognising that my financial, health and personal circumstances are part of what God has called me to, and I need to recognise what God really wants me to do within these. Doesn’t absolve me from the responsibility of recognising what in my life gets in the way of God’s call, though!

    • Tanya 30th September, 2013 at 9:48 am #

      Hi Allan – I totally agree that calling is not made just of our passions and dreams but the circumstances we find ourselves in. For most people in the world, to be able to choose their career path or even marriage partner is a luxury they can’t enjoy. God calls us to be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.

      Having said that, I found myself in my early twenties with a completely blank canvas before me, not knowing what to do with my life. I had all the luxury of choice, but no idea what to choose. This is when it can be helpful to answer the question ‘what am I called to?’ by examining ‘what passions and gifts has God given me?’ I think this is the kind of situation that Ally is addressing particularly.

  8. Elspeth 27th September, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    It sounds like a fascinating book! Travelling around the States living out of a suitcase sounds awesome! =) Like Allison, I would like to write as well. That would be my dream right now. Whether it’ll happen or not…well, we’ll just see.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Tanya 30th September, 2013 at 9:44 am #

      It’s fab to meet a fellow writer! I’d definitely encourage you to just – start writing! Thanks so much for stopping by here today.

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