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!
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.
–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)