Friday, January 25, 2013

A Challenge for America

My mind grapples with a few things I've read over the last few days. The first quote came to my inbox:

Sometimes I wonder how you handle all of the problems that go along with not having enough money, having special-needs children, having migraines, etc. 

The second is a few paragraphs I read on Kristen Welsh's blog, We Are That Family. Her regular readers know that Maureen, the young director of Mercy House Kenya, is in America staying with Kristen's family in Texas while both women fulfill a few speaking commitments and work on their ministry together. Kristen writes:

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.

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 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.

I see and feel and read about contrast all the time, and my mind keeps coming back to this thought: What is blessing, really?

Kristen is the privileged wife of a pharmaceutical rep with three physically- and mentally-healthy children. She pays her bills on time, lives in a big, beautiful, well-constructed house. She can afford well-made appliances and vacations and getaways. She can afford to give generously, and still live well. And God is using her.

Her life has changed considerably since her 2010 Compassion blogger trip to Kenya. She sponsors a lot more children, she gifts all the proceeds from her blog to her Mercy House ministry, and she works for free to organize and ship out Mercy House-made products that help fund their ministry, using a large trailer in her backyard as a warehouse/work place. She's had to endure the stress of running a non-profit agency without prior experience (learning all the tax laws, etc). The stress has been enormous and only God sustains her through it.

After these couple weeks with Maureen, Kristen probably wishes she could give all she has to the poor and live spiritually perfect, giving glory to God through it all.

But that's too hard. It's not in our human nature to live that sacrificially--placing oneself in a position of poverty. Human nature works to get out of poverty, not enter into it.

Maureen knows she's blessed. Americans? Do we know that? Can we know that, truly, while living privileged lives?

The question, what is true blessing, is answered by Kristen's angst right now. She feels more embarrassed than blessed. She feels the weight of inequality, more than the blessing of convenience.

She feels more than ever, I believe, the truth of this verse: Luke 12:48 From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

In March 2010, after her first Kenyan trip, Kristen wrote this:

So. This week, I got up the nerve and asked God, “Why do you allow poverty, suffering, and injustice when You could do something about it.”

And He asked me the same question.

Kristen has spent nearly three years doing something about it, and she will continue to do more. As she said, "How could I know seeing my life thru her lens would wreck me in a new way?" God will use Kristen's faithfulness, her spiritual insight, to change not only Kenya, but America. As she does, she'll continue to grapple with how much of her personal wealth to give.

A couple C.S. Lewis quotes fit in well here:

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusement, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.

If our giving does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our commitment to giving excludes them.

And a few Bible quotes as well:

1 Timothy 6:9-11 People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life…

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

We all have to grapple with this same question. How much do we give? In America we'll always have to fight hard against the love of money, for money brings convenience, comfort, recognition, power, status, health.

God gave the world enough. There is enough to go around and he's given us the responsibility of distributing it fairly. To whom much is given, much is required. How much can we keep, and still hold money loosely, believing it comes from God, not ourselves? I believe it's our sense of entitlement that causes us to keep too much for ourselves.

Are we entitled to anything, or is everything a gift?

I go back to the question in my inbox:

Sometimes I wonder how you handle all of the problems that go along with not having enough money, having special-needs children, having migraines, etc. 

My answer will resonate much with this person; I have to choose my words carefully. God has given an opportunity in this question, and after reading and contemplating and praying over quotes and verses that have come my way in these last few days, I think I will answer with some version of this:

Are we entitled to anything, or is everything a gift? I have come to believe that everything is gift. Hardship is gift. Health problems are gift. Not enough money is gift. Whatever pulls me away from this world, and brings me closer to God, is gift.

I realize I don't have to fight as hard as Kristen, and that's one of the reasons I admire her. God slowly took away money and convenience from me and added hardship, in order to bring me to a place of thankfulness. He took away my sense of entitlement, little by little. I look at the last five to seven years as a form of discipline. I was a Christian with access to the Bible and to Truth, but I wasn't getting it. I needed a huge nudge, and I'm forever grateful God didn't give up on me, but choose to work with me.

But from Kristen he hasn't taken anything away--except her ignorance about abject poverty--and she still understands. She is still thankful. She holds the things of this world loosely.

This is the commitment Kristen and Maureen have made together, and it's what Kristen challenges us all to do:
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
Read her whole post here.



Vicki said...

Everyone should read this post! I have been following Kristen for awhile now along with Ann Voskamp and have been so encouraged (and convicted) to do more. I also have come to believe that everything is a gift. I am by no means "rich" according to American standards, we live paycheck to paycheck, but as compared to the rest of the world I am abundantly blessed. But there is always more we can do. When I start to pity myself, I try to think of others that don't have anything.

Thank you for sharing! Bless you!

Christine said...

Vicki, it is very nice to meet you. I am so glad you decided to write a blog. I read some of your story and I will be praying for you, truly. I can't imagine the grief and the weight you carry. Love to you.

Vicki said...

It is nice to meet you too. I love when God connects me with people who have such a heart for HIM!

Thank you for your kind words and prayers. Obviously, some days are harder than others but I am so blessed to have Jesus to carry me through. I honestly have no idea how people handle life without Him.

But even through the hardest of times, He has blessed me and shown me the truth of Romans 8:28. Now I just want to live my life for Him and do whatever it is that He has in store for me!

Bless you and Love back to you!