I drive by my dream house on the way to work every day.
Once, while it was being built, Terrell and I impulsively stopped and looked in the windows. I told myself if we got caught peeking into the vacant house, we could convince people we were potential buyers and not creepers.
A contractor opened the front door with us standing on the porch. Awkward. But he was happy to give us the grand tour and confirm that yes, this was definitely our dream house. And it could be ours for a small fortune.
My husband and I had one or two “what if” conversations. “What if we sold our house and what if we got a little higher house payment and what if we used the extra space to —and what if we. . .” and we talked about all the reasons and ways we could make this happen. And we even dipped our toes into these murky waters: We are good people. We help others. And although we didn’t say it out loud, we might have even thought maybe we deserve this blessing?
But in our hearts, we knew those what if’s would make our we could’s impossible.
And it is the we could’s that has made our life such an adventure. We could raise money to open maternity homes in Kenya. We could buy a kiln for an artisan group we work with at Fair Trade Friday. We could sponsor another child. We could support our sweet friend and employee who wants to move to Thailand to serve her people. We could respond to a need immediately. We could . . .
Back in my own beautiful home, I would give myself a pep talk every now and then when I started thinking about what I didn’t have instead of what I did. Kristen, your house is beautiful and it has plenty of room. Moving would be so much trouble. We’ve spent so much time and money on our backyard.
But even the “we could’s” didn’t stop me from noticing the for sale sign swinging in the wind as I slowed down to pass by and they didn’t stop making me wonder what it would be like to sip coffee on the broad porch swing or cook in the modern farmhouse kitchen.
But you know what: I didn’t think of my dream house once while we were in Kenya last month.
I didn’t think of the gorgeous wood beams on the ceiling when I stood in a home without a roof. I didn’t remember the massive front porch when I stepped over putrid raw sewage to enter a home in the slum. I didn’t long for the perfect kitchen when I sat in home after home without running water.
And since I’ve been home, I’ve been going a different way to work.
I’m not sure if my dream house has sold yet, but it’s okay because I don’t really care anymore.
I was reminded of this truth–this choice— that our culture, even The Church, and yes, me, doesn’t like to think about:
I can change my lifestyle.
Or I can change a life.
That’s the truth in the choices we make.
And yeah, the truth hurts.
I will tell you plain–it is gutting me.
Because I met people–women in oppressive and pathetic situations who are hoping and praying for someone to make the right choice.
I can make my life better, more comfortable, more convenient or I can change another person’s life so they can live another day.
When we say it hard and clear like that–it almost makes it sound like we are choosing between being selfish or selfless.
A couple of weeks ago, I stood in front of women at a church up north and the words that have been thundering in my heart for weeks came out of my mouth and I was as shocked to hear them as the dropped jaws staring back at me were. I’m still trying to pound out my thoughts and feelings in my heart and some days I swing too far to one side or the other, but saying them aloud has only made them seem more true:
We call ourselves a blessed people. America is blessed. We are a Christian nation and God has blessed us with so many good things…pretty things. I have a nice car, a nice house, I am so blessed. We get unexpected money in the mail and we say, “Oh, look another blessing.” But what if God gave it to us so we could bless someone else with it? What if instead of giving God the minimum, we gave Him the most? What if we aren’t blessed at all? What if we have so much –not because we are blessed but because we just keep it to ourselves? What if we are really just selfish?
Yeah. I warned you.
What if we have been given so much–because we are supposed to give it away and not keep it?
What if we are failing instead of succeeding?
We can change our lifestyle. Or we can change lives.
And often when we change our lifestyle and saddle ourselves with debt and payments and assets– we couldn’t change a life–ours included–even if we wanted to. And when we have so much stuff, always trading in and up for bigger and better, we don’t feel less burdened, we feel only more tethered to this earth. I can say it because I have lived it–so heavy with stuff that it nearly choked me to death.
I cannot get Mother Teresa’s words out of my head, “When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.”
What if we took Richard Stearns version of Scripture to heart: “For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved.
What if we changed the way we live, so that people could live?
What if we were changed in the process?
God help us to see the truth.
Even when it hurts.