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.

The Reflection in the Mirror

I used to hate mirrors.

I avoided them as often as I could. I would get ready in the morning for school—squinting and inwardly criticizing my reflection and then I would avoid looking again until the end of the day.

It wasn’t the mirror I hated, really. It was the reflection.

It was me. Because all I could see was imperfection.

I spent a lot of those teen years wishing I was taller, curvier in some places, thinner in others. I longed for my boring brown hair to be less wavy, for my skin to be clearer, for more beauty.

I wanted to be beautiful. But, really, I wanted others to think I was beautiful.

It wasn’t just outward approval I longed for; I wanted to be liked. Loved.

But it’s a futile journey-this self-loathing and it leads to ugliness that runs deep.  And no cosmetic magic makeover can ever repair the broken reflections. We won’t ever be enough in those mirrors.

People spend millions of dollars in lotions and potions and peels and injections trying. It’s artificial.

“Until you are convinced of God’s incredible love for you, you will continue looking for replacement love everywhere,” Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval – and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes.

I found true love for myself and mostly others when I accepted God’s great love for me.

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I put away the mirrors that compare and contradict and condemn and I traded them for something pure and holy. I may never understand its depths, but in that deep pool of unfathomable love, I saw myself as a reflection of Christ.

It changed everything for me.

The overwhelming, ever-present need for approval lessened. I realized it was okay to be unapproved by others because I was preapproved by God. Nothing else required. Just like I am.

I remember the first time I saw a picture of myself and thought, “She is pretty.”

It was startling because I realized that she was me.

I was being transformed from the inside out.

I still had the same unruly brown curls and average face, but I saw a different reflection.

And it had absolutely nothing to do with what I looked like.

 

I dare you to trade in the mirrors in your life that crave approval. It’s time to exchange them for always-sent preapproval in God’s eyes. Love Idol by my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee will help you find the acceptance we long for. I loved this important book and you will too!

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Today, she is graciously giving away two copies. Please leave a comment to be entered.

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And if you really want to know how God feels about you, click here now.

The Uncomfortable (Wonderful) Truth About Doing What God Tells Us

Last week I did something that made me uncomfortable.

I said yes.

It was to an email from a blog reader who also supports Mercy House telling me about a friend who was very sick. A mother diagnosed with a very serious illness who would be separated from her five beautiful children for weeks, seeking complicated medical intervention in my city, where she and her husband didn’t know a soul. Another mother who had spent her life saying yes to God, loving others.

Would I reach out to her? Would I go and pray for her?  

My first thought was to respond that the hospital was 45 minutes away, that I am really an introvert and terrible in these situations, that I am overwhelmed with my yes to Mercy House and yes to helping refugees and yes to the epic laundry pile. I wanted to excuse myself because I didn’t know when I’d find the time and really, I haven’t stepped foot into a hospital since watching my sister-in-law pass away last year. My first reaction was to come up with all the reasons I couldn’t possibly say yes.

Which is generally a clear indication that I should.

I understand we can’t say yes to everything and everyone. And while I’m careful to guard my time, I really believe there are some questions we don’t have to pray about. There are some situations that grip your heart and you know God is speaking.

And this was one for me.

When I read the email to my husband and kids, they didn’t think twice about going. And I had to be honest with myself.

Because here’s the deal: If my To Do List isn’t governed by love, than I need to lay it down. If I’m too busy to love another person, then I’m too busy.

Because all the doing can make a person sick and leave no time for getting well.

Saying yes and obeying God is uncomfortable. It’s awkward. It requires self-denial. It requires action.

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It’s easy to have faith at home that God will heal a sick mom I’ve never met, but it’s a different story when I’m standing next to her hospital bed with my family with a bag of books and goodies asking Him to do so.

Because, yes, I’m sure it encouraged my new friend, but even more, it encouraged me. We must understand that obedience isn’t just for the person receiving. It’s even more for the person doing.

The uncomfortable truth of doing what God tells us is this: It’s going to cost something-pride, time, money, bravery. But the reward of stepping into the unknown far outreaches and outlasts the price you have to pay.

A typical week at my house is anything but typical.

There’s always someone dropping off donations on the front porch, packing orders in the Mercy House building in our backyard,  homeschool groups serving, mothers organizing in the garage, random people ringing the doorbell to see if I need help.

If you would have described this life scenario to me a few years ago, I would have laughed. And then hid.

I used to be a private person. I rarely had friends over and I was uncomfortable with people I didn’t know. I was safe in my controlled little world where I didn’t have to push my introverted self out of my comfort zone.

But I wouldn’t trade this real life today for anything in the world. Because my yes depends on a lot of others to say yes with me.

And I’ve been changed in the process.

As we drove home from the hospital, Terrell and I marveled at how much we had in common with our new friends from Missouri and we thanked God for introducing us to this beautiful, brave family.

My kids are already asking when we can go again.

The truth is we needed that visit as much as they did.

Stepping out in obedience makes us feel better because To Do lists can make a soul sick and it’s in the loving others we get well.

Do what God tells you to do. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Especially then.

You won’t regret it.

 

P.S. Please pray for my friend Heather.