How To Wake Up From the American Dream (You Might Not Even Know You’re Sleeping Through)

You don’t always know you’re asleep—until you wake up.

And then you see the world in a completely new way.

Two years after that first life-changing trip to Kenya, I brought Maureen, Compassion-sponsored-child-turned- fearless-Kenyan-leader who rescues girls from unthinkable situations to America for strategic planning and fundraising.

I will never forget the moment we pulled into the driveway of my nice two-story brick house and I saw my home from her perspective.

I will never forget the first question she asked as the garage door opened and she got a first look at my life in America.

“Oh, do you also sell bikes?” she asked innocently after seeing the five bikes hanging from my garage for my family of five.

Y’all.

Waking up from the American Dream

That one question has haunted me.

Because sometimes we don’t always see how much we have until someone who doesn’t have as much sees into our lives.

Do we sell bicycles? Because there isn’t another reason why we would HAVE SO MANY if not. Because in her country one bike is a luxury. One bike is shared by dozens. Five bikes is a bike store.

But I think we all know this isn’t really about bikes. It’s not even about wealth and the world’s poverty.

It’s about waking up from a dream that is never satisfied. About being grateful for what we have and about sharing some of it with others.

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Hey.

I know it’s not easy to talk about waking up from the American Dream. I know reading this might be uncomfortable. I understand it’s more fun to read new recipes or how to’s on rearranging furniture or encouraging mom words.

I get that. I know clicking here requires something of you. I know buying my book about trading in safe comfortable faith for something more authentic and dangerous will cost you more than the $12 price tag.

I know because waking up has been hard for me. I still struggle.

I like the idea of the . A·mer·i·can dream

1.  the idea that everyone in the United States has the chance to achieve success and prosperity

What could possibly be wrong with wanting success and prosperity? We all deserve it, right? We are entitled to it.

No.

It doesn’t take more than a long look at how 3/4 of the world lives to realize, we are not the norm and the only real difference between the poorest of the poor and the guy driving the $100,000 car is where they were born.

“I think with the way we have unprecedented material blessing, with the way we have a culture built on self, self-esteem, self-confidence. All of these things we begin to twist the gospel into something that it is not. We make it look like us and fit into our lifestyle instead of adjusting our lifestyle to the gospel. In the process we make following Jesus more American than it is biblical. As a result there seems to be a major disconnect between what it means to follow Christ in the first century and what it means to follow Christ in our definition in the 21st century,” David Platt.

To be honest, for every yes I’ve said, there have been at least a hundred reasons to say no.

It is too risky.

What will people think?

I like living this way.

I deserve nice things.

I’ll give to someone in need as soon as I finish building my dream home.

“Believing in the Jesus of the Bible makes life risky on a lot of levels because it is absolute surrender of every decision we make, every dollar we spend, our lives belong to another. And so that is relinquishing control in a culture that prioritizes control and doing what you need to do in order to advance yourself.  The call of Christ is to deny ourselves and to let go of our lives. To relinquish control of our lives, to surrender everything we are, everything that we do, our direction our safety our security is no longer found in the things of this world. It is found in Christ,” David Platt.

So, how do we wake up from the American Dream? I often feel myself being lulled back to sleep by it.

  • We stop comparing ourselves to other people. I often don’t know I want something until I see someone else enjoying it. If I’m going to compare myself to someone who has something I don’t, then I also must compare myself to someone who has less than I have.
  • We commit to doing what God tells us to–when He says it. That prompting to give isn’t from you. It goes against our nature to take care of someone else’s needs before meeting our wants.
  • We become wildly generous. Give your life away. It’s easy to give when we have a lot. But when we give and it costs us something–that is true generosity. I’ll say it again: There is nothing more gratifying than giving someone something they need instead of buying something we want.

A generous person is always ready to spontaneously give to those in need. It’s usually inconvenient and unplanned. It will probably cost us comfort, even pride. It won’t be easy or bring us fame.

This is Christianity.

It’s easier to keep sleeping. Living different than the world will cost us something.

But my life is proof that waking up is an open door to living wide awake. And that’s so much better than a dream.

The Difference Between Their Daughters and Mine

She is 14. She longs for adventure and freedom. She loves to learn and is at the top of her class. She helps her mother with her siblings and she doesn’t mind it. She snatches her mother’s bright shirt from the laundry and twirls as she holds it to her chest. She has dreams.

She is not my daughter.

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But she could be. 

The only difference between that girl and my own is where they were born.

One was born into freedom. The other oppression.

My daughter will live adventure. She will know freedom. She will continue in school and work to stay at the top of her class. She will help with her brother and sister and she will dream.

The girl born in the red dirt of Africa will be kidnapped from school in the middle of the night and held at ransom, probably abused or worse. 

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Every time I read that females are the most oppressed people group in the world my stomach knots and I feel sick.

Because I have daughters. And I am a mother. And I love God and He loves them. And I long for things to be made right in this world. For the girls to come home, to be free, safe. It’s the compelling force behind Mercy House. It’s the story behind the story.

In our world of sky scrapers, hand-held computers, busy schedules and lovely Pinterest, it’s too easy to think this good life we lead is normal. It’s not. This is not how most people in the world live.

And my girls painting their toenails and giggling in the bathroom is a luxury. They do not know oppression. They do not fear being taken in the middle of the night.

Do you know what the number one fear in the slums of Africa is? It’s not starvation or lack of water. It’s not provision. It’s violence. Girls fear being violated. Because the odds are they will be on their way home from school…by strangers, by their fathers and uncles, policemen. It’s a thought so sickening, it keeps me up at night.

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How do we help these girls?

How do we stop the oppression of women and girls?

How do we put an end to the violence against them?

We pray.

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And we pray some more.

And we continue to pray until they are rescued. Until they are redeemed. Until they come home.

I was sitting in church the other day. My eyes were closed as I sang. I lifted my hand in surrender and when I did, the twine on my prayer bracelet snapped and the little heart fell onto my lap. How fitting. Holy hands. A Holy God. A Holy Fight to remember girls all over the world from Nigeria to Kenya to South America to the brothels in Thailand to the elusive massage parlors in my city, to the refugee moms we teach to crochet.

We feel helpless. But when we pray we unleash the Great Helper.

We feel inadequate. But when we pray God is more than adequate.

We feel defeated. But when we pray Jesus defeats the enemy.

This week, today, now, the staff at Mercy House are talking to helpless, hopeless pregnant girls who will be our next in-house residents. They are setting up a mentoring group in a nearby slum for those who won’t be residents. We are taking Mercy House to them. It’s overwhelming, heart-breaking work. The stories-oh, Jesus-the pain the girls in our world endure. We pray. It’s the one thing we can do.

3 Things We Can Do Today For the Most Oppressed People Group in the World:

  1. Sure, go ahead and light up social media with #bringbackourgirls. But at the same time, do battle. Shine a light on the darkness of terror that will draw attention from every corner. It’s time we fight on our knees.
  2. Wear a love mercy prayer bracelet. Every time you see it or touch it or feel it on your skin, whisper a prayer. It’s a constant reminder not to forget them and to pray for oppressed girls everywhere.
  3. Most of all, pray. Right now, wherever you are. Whisper this prayer to God on their behalf:

“God, we humbly seek your face and lift up the girls and women in our world who suffer in bondage and fear violence. We ask that you would set these captives free. We pray they would feel your strong arm of love in the midst of their suffering. Please give me the courage to stand against oppression. Bring back our girls. Amen.”

Do you know what the difference between their daughters are and mine?

Nothing.

 

[Does your church have a bookstore, coffee shop or do you own a restaurant, boutique or know someone who does? We are now offering our love mercy prayer bracelets at a low wholesale cost to help spread awareness. Please email for details.]

The Blessing (Or Curse) of Stuff and What We Are Really Teaching Our Kids

I ran into an old friend on my way out of the post office the other day. We quickly caught up on each other’s life and I was tempted to count how many times she said “I’m blessed.”

“We moved into a bigger house. We are so blessed! We finally upgraded to a new van. Just so blessed. My kids got into an exclusive summer camp and don’t you just love my new purse? I’m just so blessed! If God keeps blessing us, we hope to buy some land soon…”

I’m not opposed to blessings.

But I couldn’t help but notice how every time she said  “blessing” it was attached to a thing.

I’ve said the same words before.  But I’m talking about more than word choice and terminology.

Because after meeting the poorest of the poor on the other side of the world–and serving every Friday among the refugee women in my city– people without furnishings or cars or diapers or even enough food for the day, without “blessings” –I couldn’t help but wonder if they are blessed, too?

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When we relate blessings to the stuff in our lives, our gratitude sounds hollow and shallow. Are we still blessed if our house burns down, our car breaks, our kids rebel, our health declines or we choose to give our money away?

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. Yes. And I know the heart is often thankfulness behind our statements, “I’m so blessed because I have ___.” But what if we lose these blessings? Can we still say I’m blessed?

This was the life-changing question that flipped my life upside down.

Because when I stood eye-to-eye with another mother in the slum who had nothing–nothing–and yet she praised God for being blessed with life and the  jug of clean water in her hand, I knew she possessed something I didn’t.

It has been said that our unhappiness is evidenced in our excess of stuff.

We buy and buy and buy and then when we have too much, we drag the stuff to the driveway, stick a price tag on it and sell it so we can buy more. What in the world are we teaching our kids?

We are teaching them that stuff makes us happy and even more stuff makes life better. When we unite “blessings” with “things” we are teaching our kids that if we don’t have things we aren’t blessed. I’m certainly not opposed to buying stuff we need and even things we want. But the truth I’ve discovered is that real blessing comes when I buy something someone else needs instead of something I want.

That’s the blessed life I want to show my kids. 

Because being blessed has absolutely nothing to do with stuff. It’s temporary. It can be gone tomorrow and it will be gone for eternity. We are blessed no matter what we have because God has given us grace, forgiveness, hope, a second chance and eternal life.

This is my story of how I went from suffocating from stuff to discovering the real “stuff” of God that we cannot buy.

4 Things We Can Do to Teach Our Kids the True Meaning of Blessings:

  1. Name your blessings as a family (but tell your kids they can’t name “stuff” or things money can buy).
  2. The next time you drive by a garage sale, use it as an opportunity to introduce this idea of our throwaway-so-we-can-have-more culture. Or take them to Goodwill.
  3. Gather extra stuff occupying closets and drawers and plan a garage sale and give the money away.
  4. Give gifts of time and service to family members instead of more stuff and encourage your kids to do the same.

We have stuff. But stuff shouldn’t have us.

 

How a Dying Man Changed the Way I Live on A Good Friday

He has Stage IV cancer.

Our strong, healthy friend is dying.

This killer invaded his body quietly. It’s wild to think of the silent battle we don’t even know we could be fighting. How close we walk to death in life…

We can’t answer the when’s and how’s, we can only hold onto the truth that God can do anything.

Because we are people of the Resurrection. We believe in the impossible. We hope for the improbable.

I have watched our friend give even more of his time and energy to others in his sickness.  He is kind and generous. His actions are life-giving.

He makes me want to say all the things that are left unspoken. He makes me want to cherish others every day. He makes me want to love freely and live in wild obedience. He reminds me he might not have a tomorrow.

He reminds me that I might not either.

A dying man is changing the way I live.

Because he understands the power of Resurrection, too. He knows his life–a vapor–is not the end. Instead it is the beginning.

The way he chooses to live points to another dying man on another Friday so long ago.

It looked bad. The sky was dark, the deed was done. The enemy gloated.

It was time to wait.

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And we wait. It’s the hardest part of Good Friday-the waiting.

The hours ticked by. The buzzards circled. The blood dried.

But then.

This was no ordinary man who would be held by death or the grave.

The earth shook and we see that the moment God died, He gave us life.

He is alive. Death cannot win.

We are people of the Resurrection. We believe in the impossible. The improbable.

No matter what may come in this life–hardships, dark days, a diagnosis or even death.

Jesus’ death changes the way we live.

His Resurrection changes our eternity.

 

Happy Easter, dear friends. 

He is risen.

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Use Words When Necessary

Her name is Bipana and every time I see her she wears a bright yellow shirt that matches her personality. She has the kind of smile you can’t ignore.

Bipana is an ethnic Nepali. She is 26 years old and spent the first 20 years of her life in limbo in a refugee camp in Nepal after her family fled Bhutan for racial discrimination.

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The refugee camps didn’t have electricity, the conditions were very cramped and the outbreak of fire was always a concern. Bipana attended a makeshift school within the walls of the camp. As she got older, she became a self-taught beautician.

Life in a refugee camp was very harsh.

Bipana resettled in the United States just one year ago as my neighbor with her toddler daughter and husband and she picked up English easier than most.  Her husband works at a factory 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.

And while she dreams of being a beautician in America one day, she spends her free time knitting beautiful items to help buy diapers and other necessities for her family.

My first day with the refugees was her first day in the new Art Business Class that my friends asked me to help lead. We were drawn to each other –with her willing heart and my need for a translator.

Sometimes you don’t need to speak the same language to be able to understand each other.

When she walks into the room with a bag full of knitted items, she looks for me. We hug and grasp hands. We are connected. We are friends.

Someone asked me why I haven’t told her about Jesus yet.

How could I not share Him with this Buddhist woman?

I was hungry and you fed me.

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.

I was homeless and you gave me a room.

I was shivering and you gave me clothes.

I was sick and you stopped to visit.

I was in prison and you came to me.

They reply, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you? Then the King will say, I’m telling the solemn truth:  Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked and ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” –Matthew 26: 36-40

I’ve spent the last six weeks loving this woman. My friends and I have taught these beautiful refugee women a few things and learned much more. We are helping with their basic needs and with navigating this new culture. We are building relationships.

“There is such an emphasis on church buildings in the United States that we sometimes forget that the Church is the people-not the place where people meet… The church –a group of believers-is God’s ordained place for the discipleship process to take place. God’s Plan A for the redemption of the world is the Church, and He has no Plan B.”” K.P. Yohannan

My new friend may never step inside a church, but that doesn’t mean the Church can’t go to her.

Because we are God’s plan.

We are the Church.

Every week, new refugee women join the Art Business Class and something amazing has happened. Instead of us teaching them, faltering with the language barrier, they teach each other. I’ve watched Bipana countless times show a new woman how to get started.

I hope one day we can talk about what compels me to drive two hours a week to be a part of her life.

But really, I hope that as I follow Jesus, Bipana will follow me and find Him. And then she will teach her friends about Him.

This isn’t just a social gospel –doing tangible things like sharing our wealth with the poor. It’s more. It’s a life-changing Gospel that makes dead people alive. But it’s not one or the other. It’s both.

Sometimes we use words to share the Gospel.

Other times we just live it.