i think you overestimate me

I’m not one for false humility, but I also feel really uncomfortable when someone sings of virtues I don’t actually have. I’ve learned to accept compliments graciously but not when I’m given more credit than I deserve.

Example: I posted a pic on Facebook on Christmas Eve of the girls purging and packing for our move in three weeks.

A friend of mine said this: “Ugh! I don’t like! You purged EVERYTHING in the States! I just want for you to ‘have!’ and not always feel like your only mission in life is to give give give…

My reply: “You’re super sweet, friend. We have plenty, I promise. ‘Stuff’ doesn’t make us happy. We like experiences. And food. And enough money to pay our bills. And people have given us far more than we’ve ever given away. xoxoxo!!

Friend: Hmmmmm… okay, I’ll believe you for now. I’m trying really hard to remember being your girls’ age. What amazing ladies they are! I genuinely believe you, that you have everything you need… But when I was their age, huh? I probably wanted many more things… Maybe not even what my super rich friends had, but something more than ‘purging?’ I want to send the girls something super fun! Super individual! Super American! Super selfish! Super something just to enjoy and not have to feel guilty for. Catch my drift?”

I smiled at her sweetness and told her I’d give her our new address when we get settled.

And then I called the girls into my bedroom to get their input on what she’d said. I asked them questions and tried not to steer the conversation. I wanted their honest opinions, not what they thought would please their practical, purge-happy, Grinch mom.

Here’s some of what they said.

First of all, they talked about what we’ve actually been purging. We didn’t purge “EVERYTHING” in the States. We brought 6 suitcases and 5 carry-ons full of stuff to Cambodia and have bought plenty more since we’ve been here. “We’re not purging anything we want,” one daughter said. “It’s all crap.”

It is not, in fact, all “crap.” We’re donating the stuff to our church, and you know my feelings on giving away stuff that is not-good-enough-for-me-but-good-enough-for-them. It’s all good and usable, but we just don’t need/want it. Pants/shoes that don’t fit (I now have 2 children taller than me), shirts they never wear, books we won’t read again, travel pillows that just take up space, freebies Gabe gets on his camera adventures, hotel toiletries…

We’re not selfless. Giving everything away is not our “only mission in life.” The fact that we’re purging just means we’ve somehow accumulated a lot of unnecessary junk again and we don’t want to take it with us when we move.

“We like things and want things,” one daughter said. “It’s probably just different from what some girls back in America want.”

“What do you think ‘girls back in America’ want?” I asked. They weren’t really sure what teenage girls would want. An iPod? A phone? Make-up? (Livi wore make-up to a wedding recently, and Nina is all, “Ugh! She’s such a teenager all of a sudden!”).

Livi texted one of her cousins in Ohio. “What do you want for Christmas?”

“Money,” she said.

“What about nine-year-old girls?” I asked Nina.

“Hmmm… barbies and My Little Ponies?”

“Okay, what are some things you want?”

Ava: A selfish American bike!

(so cheeky)

Livi: A moto. A bike. To learn Khmer better. Stuff to use for teaching kids at the new center.

Me: How about something smaller, something someone could actually buy you?

Livi: Shoes that fit me. (she and Ava both wear size 11 and Cambodians are tiny)

Ava: A new iPod case. Mine cracked. Money for frappes.

Nina: Auntie Anne’s pretzels.

(Mom shakes her head.)

Ava: Oh! The Mockingjay movies on DVD! (we have the first two)

Speaking of movies, this is how we spend our time when we’re not at the center (or cleaning, cooking, running errands): reading (all four of us just re-read The Hunger Games trilogy), watching movies on the laptop, iPod games, board games, Facebook & Instagram, writing (me). And we have everything we need for that pretty much.

Me: I want a constant supply of journals and pens. And $ to buy kindle books on Amazon if they don’t have one I want on the digital library site.

Here’s the thing, friends. We aren’t denying ourselves pleasures because we think it makes us holier or better. We’ve just figured out a secret that I think is kind of a universal truth.

Once you have what you need, more stuff doesn’t always (or very often at all) equal more happy.

“But God wants to give you the desires of your heart!!”

Yes. I agree. And we have desires. Lots of intangible, money-can’t-buy desires. (Livi: I  just want people to know that what makes me happiest are things like playing with my Abbey Lane friends and helping at HPC.)

AND quite a few that money can buy.

And I’m going to list a number of them for you. Some of these things we really do “need” and will have to buy within the next few weeks. Some of them are for pure pleasure, and we will dream about them and see if God provides them.

But we’ve been around the block a time or two, and we know know know that, even if someone bought every item on this list for us tomorrow, it wouldn’t magically make us happy, content. There’s always something else. Learning to be content with what we have right this minute is one of the secrets of a happy life.

And getting getting getting while people all around us have nothing just doesn’t feel right. It’s not even a guilt thing. It’s an I-want-my-neighbor-to-have-her-needs-met-too.

The List

–another moto (which means I have to learn to drive it–eek! no easy tuk-tuk access where we’re going to live)
–bicycles for the fam
–pots of flowers and plants to pretty up our concrete yard
–bunk beds (the girls have shared one big bed all year)
–art supplies/books/musical instruments for the center
–$ to eat/drink coffee at fun places
–visa extensions for 2016 (it costs us $1200/year to live here)
–ice cream maker for the center
–a big porch swing with cushions (sigh)
–3 more moto helmets (and Gabe just got his stolen for the first time 2 days ago–he bought a replacement)
–dress clothes (Gabe and I will be having meetings with government officials and can’t wear t-shirts)
–kitchen table & chairs
–other things to make our home warm and welcoming for guests (HPC staff, short-term teams, Phnom Penh friends on holiday, all of our American friends we’re going to talk into visiting)
–a wide-angle camera lens (Gabe)
–tennis shoes for the girls when we visit the States
–a couple more Banners by Bethany when she starts making them again
–computers for the center
–a swing set for the center
–gas cards & restaurant gift cards when we visit America (Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A, Cane’s, PeiWei, Chuy’s, Arby’s, Auntie Anne’s…)

I don’t know how to wrap this up all pretty. And I don’t know if I even got my point across. I just know that I want joy, true joy, long-lasting joy. And all the times in the past when I’ve tried to find it in “stuff,” I’ve failed.

Here’s what’s important, friends. Here’s what matters. Here’s what lasts:

People. Relationships. Making memories. (And so many of the gifts you got & gave this Christmas will do that very thing–build relationships & make memories with loved ones!) Giving your life to serve others. Spending time with Jesus. Bringing his kingdom to earth.

And food. (wink)

6 thoughts on “i think you overestimate me

  1. Chris

    I second what Nicky said. I know your family’s heart is for seeking out God and being obedient and I’ve seen it firsthand.

  2. Nicky

    Marla, I think your post is very accurate. I have been following you and your family for 5 years now. I have seen you guys give a lot, but also graciously receive a lot. You have all uprooted your lives to follow what God has called you to do, and you all do it so well. It is not easy to leave a life where everything is at your fingertips and disposal to go across the world where you do not have most of the comforts of home, learn a new language, not have the same foods/healthcare/education, etc. as what you once had. But yet you are all doing it well, you are serving people that need the positive influences you are providing, people that need to know Gods love and people that are seeing that there are others in the world that want them to succeed and be able to have a good life. Keep on ministering, and keep on giving… God Has and will provided for your whole family. If some people think that you’re doing all of this to take the easy way out and not work or support their selves, then they don’t really know you or your family and they don’t realize what you have been called to do.

    May God bless all 5 of you and the lives you touch. Merry Christmas and have a wonderful 2016!

  3. Samantha

    This post is complete BS. Who is under the illusion that you are “denying” yourself. 2 weeks ago you were asking for donations for a $1450 camera for your husbands birthday. I have never had a $1450 birthday present (or a $600 one for that matter)…guess I need to become a missionary so I can ask other people to pay for it. You never stop asking for people to buy you things (and I am not talking about asking for stuff for poor Cambodian children that ACTUALLY have nothing). You “asked” (or made sure everyone on your blog knew when you wanted something) long before you called yourself missionaries. (After a year, You are just now committing to a full time project (right?) and yet you are already planning a trip back to the states and why should your girls have to drive back from NY when the good people of the web could pay for more expensive tickets to Ohio, right?). And please don’t talk again about how Gabe HAD to quit his job because of anxiety…how many jobs did he (and you) quit before that?? You just can’t commit to anything and have found that asking for money is far easier.

    If anything your “friend” was saying that you and your husband’s choices are forcing your children to live without (yes I realize there are many living with less).

    Unbelievable!!! Get over yourself and at least be honest. This whole post is just another way for you to ask for people to pay for things!

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Hi, Samantha. Thanks for taking the time to comment. If you’ll look back at the post, you’ll see that I AM being honest. Almost every single day, someone tells me how generous and/or giving we are, and I’m trying to set the record straight. That we are the recipients of SO much AND that we aren’t denying ourselves like they think.

      Maybe you could read it again? Like the part where I said, “people have given us far more than we’ve ever given away.”

      I can’t defend some of the things you said about us, because they’re true. We both quit jobs before Gabe’s anxiety, and we have asked for things we need.

      Here are things that aren’t true. The camera wasn’t a “birthday gift.” He’s going to use it as part of our ministry. (and, yes, he got the $600 one instead of the more expensive one)

      Gabe did have to quit his job because of anxiety. You can ask his employer.

      The director of our organization WANTS us to take a trip to the States this summer (and every other summer–2018, 2020, 2022–after that) to raise awareness and fundraise for the new center.

      The “good people of the web” didn’t pay for our plane tickets. Four VERY generous real-life friends and my parents did.

      Also, our monthly salary (provided by our supporters) is $1500 and doesn’t come close to covering our needs. We earn the rest by writing/editing/designing websites.

      I’m not sure if we know each other personally or if you’ve just been following our lives for some reason for a long time. I’m glad you got all this out though. Seems you might have been holding it in for quite awhile.

      I’ll be thinking about what you said. Filtering out the untrue accusations and asking God to show me which parts sting because there’s truth to them.

      Thank you.

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