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.

A Wedding to Remember

Kenyan weddings deserve their very own post.

When Maureen visited us in America in January 2013 for meetings and speaking engagements, a generous friend of mine secretly took Maureen and I wedding dress shopping.

Because we knew (hoped) this day was coming a few months later. I had the honor of being there when the big question was asked.

Over the past few years, Maureen and I have had many Skype conversations praying and talking about her future husband, someone for her to share her life and calling with. And so, we knew if we could arrange the delicate timing of our next trip, it needed to include one very special Kenyan wedding.

And after Maureen lost her beautiful mother suddenly in June and asked if I would stand in as Mother of the Bride, I knew we had to be there.

Y’all.

You haven’t really celebrated joy until you’ve attended a Kenyan wedding. The day started very early in the lasted until sunset. And there was a lot of waiting for the bride to make her special appearance. It can sometimes take a bride up to an hour to s-l-o-w-l-y walk down the aisle. Thankfully, Maureen has too much spunk for that.

Here we are waiting…

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Here comes the bride (just a few seconds of what went on for HOURS):

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Then there was dancing and singing and more dancing and more singing. And we repeated this about 27 times.

Possibly the world’s cutest flower girl and ringbearer (the two firstborn babies of Mercy House):
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I mean, SERIOUSLY.

The Mother of the Bride got to take care of Precious and Travis. It was hard work! I might have fed them tick tacks and Pringles the entire ceremony. After Travis had about 12 chips, he started to lick the salt off and pass them down the row. Awesome.

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The Mercy House babies loved dancing (as well as several hundred other guests!)

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Maureen was a stunning bride. And her joy was evident.

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Dear Maureen and Oliver,

What a day! Thank you for sharing your amazing day with us. You are an example of purity and  faithfulness-a beauty for ashes story-to the girls at Mercy House. You’ve given them a fairytale to look forward to someday. We pray God blesses your union and His face continues to shine on you.

Love,  the Welch family

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The bride and groom presented a cake at the reception to our family and the residents of Rehema House.

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And then we danced some more…

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And just because, this needs to happen again:

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Photos by my friend and photographer, Suzanne Box

Your Prayers are Needed

Hi friends, you’ve been with me in the highs and lows these last 5.5 years. You’ve gone to Africa with me multiple times, laughed and cried in amazing and tough parenting times, believed for the impossible with me and helped save many lives by your generous giving and faithful prayers through the work of Mercy House. You are my tribe. And today, I need you again.

A couple of weeks ago, you helped raise $15,000 quickly for Maureen’s mom to have surgery to remove a life threatening brain tumor. Jennifer had brain surgery on Friday. While the surgeon was able to remove the tumor, she hasn’t regained consciousness and is in a critical coma. Doctors can do no more and Jennifer needs a miracle.

I don’t always understand God’s ways. I have questions and doubts and a lot of fear. I struggle with my faith and I feel inadequate on a daily basis. But I know God is good and He is Sovereign and I know I’m desperate for Him. Would you join me and pray for a miracle? Many all over the world are joining together to fast and pray and ask God to do the impossible in the next 24 hours.

Because He’s really good at that.

The Day Love Didn’t Disappear: A Thank You

More than $15,000 was raised in less than 36 hours. You gave, tweeted, shared and most importantly prayed for someone you’ve never met. This is Christianity: spontaneous generosity for others. I’m so proud to be a part of this community.

“This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.” -I John 3:16-17

God’s love showed up through you. Thank you.

BeFunky_Mom's appreciation letter!!.jpgDear friends and extended families,

I greet you in the mighty name of Jesus hoping that you are well.

I want to thank God in a very special way for having done me a miracle. When I started treatment the doctors were talking of a big amount of money. I was asking myself where the money will come from since Maureen is the only one earning in our family.

One evening when I was seated aimlessly, I received a call from Maureen telling me, “Mom, guess what? The hospital bill has been raised all within two days. I was shocked and confused, the only word which came out of my mouth was “Thank you, Jesus the love and favor you have for me.”

I want to thank my sister Kristen in every special way for having mobilized people who don’t me know to do the fundraising. The heart and favor you have is not with many. My next thanks goes to all who contributed and those who participated in one way or another.. May the Almighty God bless you abundantly.

I cannot forget to thank CURE for permitting Kristen to fundraise my hospital bill. May God bless you.

I am kindly asking you to pray for me….

God bless you,

Jennifer, Maureen’s Mom

The surgery is scheduled for the first week of June. Thanks for your prayers for this special lady.

The One Thing That Will Change Your Life

We have laughed our way thru her first automatic carwash and basketball game, introduced Chinese food and trampoline-jumping. We’ve exposed her to the wonders of marshmallows and s’mores, silly string and hammock-lying in our backyard. Oh, and laundry in a washing machine.

We’ve dreamed and planned, worked and played and cried our way through deep conversations, remembering the amazing, often hard road we’ve journeyed, nearly three years now.

For the last two weeks, Maureen and I have told our story, the story of Mercy Housetogether– it’s another first, and it’s been powerful.

How could I know, this, too, would change me?

How could I know seeing my life thru her lens would wreck me in a new way?

How do I explain why my country spends more on accessorizing pets in a year, than her entire country earns? She asks innocently without judgement, “Does your country know how we live in Kenya?” I don’t even have an answer. I’m just embarrassed.

How do I explain why she sees so few hospitals in my suburban town and so many in hers? I try to describe healthcare and preventive medicine and my words sound hollow because I don’t even say thank you for what I’ve always had. We take her to the doctor for a physical and blood work, another first.

Everything about my life is easy. From the laundry piles I whine about to the dinners I prepare, my life of comfort and convenience is the polar opposite to hers and millions of other. I know this. I have been to Kenya three times now and even as I prepare to go again in April, it’s startling to see my life thru her eyes.

It’s one thing to think about your life, comfort and convenience when you’re in the middle of extreme poverty. It’s hard not to. But it’s a whole different ball game when you bring someone from that background into your comfort and convenience.

She’s shared story after story of countless people who suffer more than I can fathom on a daily basis. Today, right now. Children who do not have enough food to eat. And I feel the old question welling up, tears with it. I still don’t have answers; it’s still unfair.

I’ve spent the last few weeks seeing my life as she sees it.  I am deeply compelled to be a part of the answer.

She tells me more of her childhood story, so much that I can smell the sewage that ran in front of her family’s shack. I am moved with compassion at the suffering she endured. I ache for her family and her world and I long to wipe out the suffering of her people. “Don’t cry, Mom. Look how far God has brought me,” and she begins to name blessings. “Look at all I have,” she exclaims and spreads her arms out.

We are standing in my big, beautiful home and I quietly answer, tears falling now, “Look at all I have.” There is no comparison.

But then Maureen holds one arm up to Heaven and one down to the ground and gives me a knowing look. It’s the pose we created for moments like these. It means:

I want to live my life with one hand open to receive from God above and the other hand open to give it to others. I want to be a conduit, not holding anything too tightly, ready to open my hands to others, to give to those who can never give back.

This is our commitment.

This one thing will change your life.

I dare you to try it.

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” -John Bunyan

 

[photos by Suzanne Box Photography]