Why I Must be Thankful for What I Do Not Have

I woke up grumpy on Thanksgiving Day. The dog gnawed incessantly all night at his hot spot and I hadn’t the heart (nor the courage) to curse him with the cone of shame. So I wrapped his tail with a light towel to cover the hot spot. He’d wake with a start after an hour to peel it off and gnaw again. The sound shot shivers through my spine and woke me upright. We repeated this numerous times. Between this battle and an uncomfortable dream, I woke up grumpy, irritable, far from sentimental, less than thankful.

I celebrate Thanksgiving Day not primarily because my heart naturally overflows with gratitude, but because I need to practice expressing gratitude more. I mastered complaining early in life, on my first day outside of my mother’s womb to be exact. I am ashamed of my ability on some days to walk away from acutely ill patients after 12 hours at work, feeling full of frustration at their neediness rather than deep gratitude for my own health and ability to serve them. Oh my soul. I celebrate Thanksgiving Day because I need to practice expressing gratitude more.

I need to practice gratitude for the basics, which I can really only even call “basic” because I still take them for granted that much, forgetting that I fall within the top 3% of the wealthiest in the world, simply because I have them.  Salvation, life, health, shelter, a car, food, belongings, education, a job, a dear husband, dear family, dear friends. Each of these alone merit a lifetime of thanksgiving.

I need to practice gratitude for the things I do not have. Perhaps they would incline my heart that much more towards vanity, and distance me all the more from those beloved friends in poorer countries who showed me once what a purer contentment looks like. Perhaps they would crowd my life and attention with their need for maintenance, stealing my energies from things more eternal. I am not currently suffering without those things. What more do I truly need?

I need to practice gratitude for the challenges and hardships that have come. They teach me about the need I have for my community to save me from a lone island mentality. They teach me about my weaknesses so that I do not die a more painful death from my pride. They magnify the mercy, comfort, hope and compassion of my Savior who Himself entered into our suffering in order to ultimately deliver us from it one day. They give me perspective to save me from a shallow, superficial existence.

I need to practice gratitude for the forms of suffering that I have not personally experienced. I need to practice this so that I might actively remember there are others who are enduring tragedies, which I am called to do something about in all my comfort and power and wealth, as an expression of the hands and feet and heart of a loving God. I need to practice this so that my spirit does not become overly entitled. I need to practice this in hopes that others might practice it with me as well.

I celebrate Thanksgiving Day because I need to practice expressing gratitude more. Won’t you celebrate and practice along with me this day, this season, and in this upcoming year.

Reblogged: Can Grief and Joy Coexist?

I deeply appreciate the honesty of this blog. I have lost my stomach for pat answers laden in overspiritualized vocabulary that invalidate the reality of what people experience when life is just honestly, hard. I have a deeper hunger for something both honest and real when we talk about joy in Christ, because of Christ. The same Christ who knew the Father was good, loving, and in complete control when He was broken on the cross and asked why He had been forsaken. He knew He wasn’t back Home yet, and He knows we are not either, not yet. This is the Savior I love, in whom I hope and in whom I can rejoice.

Clearing Customs

There is a phrase in Mandarin Chinese, bei xi jiao ji (悲喜交集), meaning “mixed feelings of grief and joy.” Grief and joy aren’t commonly thought of as partners, but when faced with loss, cross-cultural workers need to understand that one doesn’t necessarily cancel the other one out.

Expressing Grief

Dr. Steve Sweatman, president and CEO of Mission Training International (MTI), says that the call to take the gospel of Christ to another culture “inevitably is a call to sacrifice, to losses, to things that you will have to leave behind or give up.” This sacrifice takes many forms, and MTI has identified five categories of loss experienced by Christian cross-cultural workers. They are

  • a stable home
  • identity
  • competence
  • support systems
  • a sense of safety

In an audio presentation at Member Care Radio (entitled “Good Grief“), Sweatman also discusses the differences between concrete and abstract losses felt by cross-cultural…

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a messy answer to a loaded question

It is an incredibly hard question to answer. You’d think that I would have some kind of ready response, given that I think about it every day, but there simply is no neatly packaged answer that seems to do any meaningful justice to the question,

What is it like to be a pastor’s wife?

First, I need to explain why it is so hard to answer this question in the first place. Complexity. This is not just one question. It is at least two. What is it like to be the wife of a pastor? And what is it like to be in the separate but related role of “a pastor’s wife”?

So now, part one of that question: What is it like to be in a marriage relationship with someone who is a pastor?

Well, relationship is fundamentally molded by time shared. And for the pastor, there are demands on his time that do not exist for any other profession, coupled with expectations that he can or should find a way to meet many, if not most, if not all of those demands. This makes for an irregular schedule for your home life. His meetings with people are generally scheduled around the 9-5 work schedule that the majority of people abide by, which means that others’ free time is his work time, i.e. evenings and weekends. The spouse, then, either comes with him or stays home without him, both options having their challenges if the spouse works full-time herself. And it’s not just demands on his time. It’s demands on his emotional, mental, intellectual and spiritual self. He is constantly asked to give, and give well, on all these levels. He needs to find time to recharge, through our marriage but also apart from me. He needs his man-cave time too. It takes a lot of intentional effort on both his and my part to help make sure that happens.

If you are married to the pastor, you don’t hear the sermon the same way as everyone else in the congregation. At least I don’t. I am thinking about the sermon, but I’m also thinking about how he feels about his sermon and what kind of feedback he will want and need from me afterwards. I listen to sermon podcasts from other pastors so that I can listen to a sermon just for the sake of my own learning and growth, and for nothing else. I also have learned how to better negotiate with my pastor-husband just how much he uses me and our relationship as analogies or examples for the things he is preaching about. While I consider myself to be fairly honest and open about my life, I am nonetheless uncomfortable being the center of attention, especially in a larger group. I don’t always want to be worked into the sermon. Our dog has been a nice substitute.

If God gives you children, you are going to raise the pastor’s children. You want them to be just your children, but the fact remains, they are also the pastor’s children.  No pressure.

You know the pastor in ways that no one else does. You know his dreams, his hopes, his fears, his frailties. And you are to be his main support and encourager through it all. It is wonderful and amazing. It can also be heartbreaking.

Now, part two of the question: What is it like to be in the role of “the pastor’s wife”?

The expected “role” of “the pastor’s wife” is largely defined by your denomination, and more specifically, the personalities in your church congregation. They determine a lot of the underlying definitions and expectations of that “role.” Even if you have a supportive congregation and a fairly healthy sense of self, you still feel yourself constantly negotiating those tensions between what you want and need and what you feel others want and need. What is more, the tensions are not completely static. They will change as your congregation changes, and they will change as your own personal life changes. As a result, you are constantly re-negotiating them to some degree. You’re evaluating your personality type, your social preferences, your boundaries with time, the needs of the church, and your own needs. And you’ve stepped into this role, regardless of any other roles you already play in your own career, family, and other circles of influence.

There are other miscellaneous dynamics that are somewhat unique to the role of the pastor’s wife.

Your financial situation is different from everyone else’s. I’m not talking so much about salary and tax laws, though those can certainly be sticky topics. I’m talking about perception and expectations related to finances. What you buy, what you wear, what you drive, where you live, where you go on vacation. You feel the presence of perceptions and expectations related to all these things more than the spouse of any other profession, I would argue. I know of one pastor’s wife whose husband won a contest from a local sports radio station, which landed a huge HDTV in their living room. I know of another pastor’s wife whose wealthy mother-in-law passed on a used Mercedes to her and her husband. These would be much more normal and acceptable in any other context, but because the husband’s occupation is that of a pastor, they receive, at times, questioning looks about these nicer things in their possession, and they feel a need to explain.

Your relationships are just different. It’s hard to articulate the dynamics in this arena. But I remember going to a family’s home for New Year’s Eve, and they had two energetic, playful dogs who proceeded to do what dogs sometimes do – they humped. Mortified, the teenage son pulled one dog off of the other with this specific scolding: “Not in front of the pastor’s wife!” I was mostly amused but also a little sad. He didn’t feel like he could let his dog just be a dog, simply because I was there, and I was the “pastor’s wife”? I never forgot that, maybe because it reflected a bit of this underlying threat to honest and real relationships that I wish with all my might didn’t exist, but does. Adam McHugh describes this well in his blog post, Why I Sometimes Lie About My Profession.

There are spiritual aspects around this question that I have for now intentionally left out of this post. Not because they aren’t important, and not because life is really that compartmentalized. God knows that without the spiritual aspects for me and my husband, none of this would ever be possible or worth it. But I left them out because usually when people ask me the initial question presented at the beginning of this post, they are asking about the day-to-day, nitty gritty stuff, which is what I’ve tried my best to describe here in hopefully some measure of succinctness.

I also do not intend this blog post to come across as a litany of complaints. I’m just trying to describe the experience of at least this one pastor’s wife as honestly and as straightforward as I can. These are the challenges and tensions that I am constantly working through. Can it be hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

God’s Blessing to the Impure of Heart

It is the tail end of Nurses’ Week around the country, and what a wonderful week it has been. All around the country, all throughout the hospital, and throughout our unit, people have recognized that,

“To do what nobody else will do, a way that nobody else can do, in spite of all we go through; is to be a nurse.” – Rawsi Williams

Our hospital holds an essay contest for Nurses’ Week each year, and this year’s topic was, “Describe a Moment When You Knew You Made a Difference.” Friends encouraged me to submit an entry, and I was excited to do so. People tell me I am a good writer. They tell me they are encouraged through it. The honest truth is, I find writing to be wonderfully cathartic, and so I write, in some (good) ways, for me. The honest truth is also that my ego revels in the fact that others enjoy – and give some praise to – my writing. And so I write, in some (not so good) ways, for me. It’s true, we ought to acknowledge the talents with which God has indeed graciously gifted us. But oh how our egos love to rise, and so quickly, so easily.

One physician stood at the front of the conference room and read the third-place essay. It was wonderful, and it was not mine. Another physician read the second-place essay. It was even more wonderful, and it was not mine. My heart pounded, and my ego stood on its toes, trying to peer over the sheet of paper that the final physician held in his hands, to confirm if that first-place essay was the one with my name on it. He read the first two lines, and it took that many seconds for me to realize, I hadn’t won. I hadn’t even placed.

The first-place story was remarkably special, incredibly powerful. Objectively speaking, I knew it merited its place, as the essay spoke to the beauty of nursing at its absolute finest. Everyone around me was moved to tears, but my eyes were shamefully dry. I was honestly trying to be present with the story as it unfolded in the doctor’s reading. But I was expending too much energy internally mourning my personal loss, to have enough emotional reserve to give to this beautifully moving story. It took an embarrassing amount of time and effort for me to get over myself.

The duplicity of my motivation for entering this essay contest was brought into a glaring light. Here was a room full of people, an entire nation spending an entire week, celebrating the collective story that nurses have to tell about what God-given compassion looks like through their hearts and hands. I, however, missed out a bit on the honor and joy of this greater story, because my compassion was focused on me, myself, and I for just a little too long that day.

Encouragement from other people can of course be good to a certain degree. Humble pie from time to time, however, is necessary and best, as it brings impurity of heart to the surface and burns it away. This refining is God’s blessing, God’s gift, to help my impure heart experience a deeper, purer joy in the bigger picture of what He is doing every day through nurses everywhere.

Backwards Faith

Recently at work, some of our human resources staff had us take a look at what they called our ‘behavioral style framework.’ Generally speaking, people fell into one of four categories: controlling, supporting, promoting, or analyzing. I fell into the analyzing category, and while these personality tests of course have some degree of overlap and imperfections, I would for the most part say that the description of the “analyzing” type fit me well.

Theme: Tends to be thorough, organized and a good planner

Strengths / Pluses:

–       Planning and organization

–       Conscientious and logical

–       Persistent and steady

–       Following through

–       Setting up systems and procedures

Approach to Work:

–       Problem solver

–       Thorough / accurate

–       Reliable and dependable

–       Anchor of reality

–       Defines and clarifies problems and issues

Challenges / Minuses:

–       Can be indecisive

–       Too detailed

–       Risk-averse; overly cautious

–       Not expressive / persuasive enough

–       Overly process-oriented

(Taken from “the human operating system: an owner’s manual” by Senn Delaney.)

It’s true – I am not a big risk-taker. When confronted with big challenges that involve the unknown, I am usually hesitant, indecisive, and, well, analytical. Most of the time, I am always able to make a longer list of risks and potential dangers than I am of potential benefits. I can’t deny it – I like what’s comfortable, predictable. I can generally relate more to the potential disciples who shied away from Jesus’ call to leave everything and follow Him, than to the ones who actually did so with little (or at least less) hesitation, though they had no real idea in that moment what His call actually entailed. For these reasons and many more, I do not tend to see myself as a person of great faith.

What I do see compelling many of my decisions to move forward in the face of fear and uncertainty is more of a backwards faith. First realizing on the surface, and then eventually coming to know on a very deep gut level that

I can’t not move forward.

When my parents came down hard on me during my college years for my growing faith in Christ and the impact it had on my life priorities and choices, the criticism was incredibly painful and deeply personal. They told me I was crazy, brainwashed. In so many ways, it would have been so much easier to just walk away from, or at least de-prioritize my faith a bit. I could avoid all the painful arguments and the criticism. I could have the approval that I craved so intensely from my them. But I couldn’t not move forward. God had done too much to transform and heal my life; He had been too good to me. I simply could not go back to a life without Him.

When I was faced with an incredibly difficult choice in my 20s as to whether or not to confront someone on some very serious issues, I was no masochist. I knew the confrontation would thrust me into the center of public controversy for an extended period of time. I knew I would lose friends. I had no desire to walk into that kind of heartache. But the issues had already been swept under the rug for too long, and they were now too serious to ignore.  I had no idea what lie ahead, but we couldn’t go back and we could no longer stay in our state of pretending things were ok. I couldn’t not move forward.

Sometimes, I think faith for me has been less out of a heart that is certain of the things hoped for, and more out of a heart that just knows it can’t go back or stay stagnant. An analytical heart that trembles with each scary, tentative step, but a heart that knows that life is always better with the One who loves me with His very life, than it is without Him.  And the more I see His faithfulness behind me, the more I am able to learn to trust His faithfulness to find me here, and to go before me.  Hope rises.

why I regret robbing my mother

There was a law at the time which dictated that for immigrant families who wished to come to the United States, one parent had to come and stay for a year first before the rest of the family could join. A type of security deposit, I suppose. On paper, I can see how it makes sense. Protects the country, somehow. But for a young couple with two baby girls under the age of two, I can see how it felt like an impossible move. A father, determined but scared nonetheless, leaving his family behind and going to a place where he did not know the language, the culture, the street signs, the taboos. He knew no one, no one knew him, and no one really cared. Except the family he left behind.

My mom says that once that year was up, my sister and I thankfully slept quite soundly on that long, so very long, plane flight from Taiwan to Los Angeles. I often wonder what went through her mind during that long lonely flight with us. What did a young mother with two baby girls pack in her suitcase as she flew them from one side of the world to another? My father drove the equally long drive from Nebraska to LAX to be reunited with his girls. And together as a family, we turned his car around and drove back to Nebraska where my parents would finish their graduate school education. Listening to lectures in a foreign language and trying desperately to interpret and then process everything before the professor moved on to the next sentence, the next equation, the next exam. It was so hard. But it was for their girls.

Between then and now, I have mostly not appreciated my parents. I don’t think I have ever said to their face, “Thank you for giving up your entire lives so that my sister and I could have a better life.” I was embarrassed by their accents, their broken English, their struggles to assimilate into my cool American life. They were always so frugal with everything and I resented it. I had no idea what a mortgage was, and besides, what did that have to do with me? So I stole a wad of money from my mom’s purse in high school and let her think that a coworker had taken it. I remember her feeling so confused, so disappointed, that anyone at her workplace would even think to do that to her. It wasn’t until college that I confessed to her, it was me. She didn’t get mad. She was just so… shocked. We had some significant differences in personality, communication styles and overall life philosophy that took a lot of work and heartache to sort through. We were never a family that openly expressed affection very easily, and we sure broke each other’s hearts countless times. Yet somehow we’d eventually tread on superficial chit-chat in that awkward movement towards reconnecting, quietly, again and again.

It’s funny how you can know your parents so well and yet not really know them at all. I remember asking my mom once over dinner, why did you marry Dad? She’s normally not the sentimental type. But her face softened. “You know… he was just… such a nice guy.” I never really thought of them as two people who had gotten giddy around each other, but she opened up a small view hole into two younger versions of themselves, eyeing each other on the college campus, flirting, laughing, wondering. They weren’t just my frugal, embarrassing immigrant parents. They were, well, real people. Huh.

Last night, my mom received an award as “Employee of the Year” in her workplace. She is the senior systems administrator overseeing the IT system for a city police department. All that hard, hard work furiously translating her graduate school lectures in those crazy Nebraska years paid off, not just for her girls, but now, for her. She was so embarrassed at the bouquet of flowers we made her hold because of the extra attention it drew to her. But of the 60+ people who received various recognitions throughout the night, many of which were for acts of tremendous valor, she was the one person who got some whistles from the crowd when her name was called. My mother? Police officers and other non-sworn coworkers came up to us throughout the night and raved about how much they loved her, about how we couldn’t let her go on vacation because the department fell apart when she wasn’t there. She grinned sheepishly throughout the night. No… she glowed. It was her night. I was so proud of her. I was so proud to be her daughter.

awkward fine dining and the question worth asking

I am an awkward fine diner. I never know which fork is for the salad, I always drink from my neighbor’s water glass, and I’m pretty sure I’ve used my butter knife to try cutting my steak at least once. I’m an awkward fine diner because I never feel sophisticated enough to be in those restaurants, with my knock-off purse and my substandard dress among the chic and refined.

But if you put me in a hole-in-the-wall in the middle of a run-down neighborhood, I sure feel fabulous. Rich. Respectable. Uncomfortably so.

This unspoken hierarchy in the context of public establishments and business transactions is a curious one. We may not even be fully aware that it exists and that it affects our expectations, behavior and reactions. But it does. In a restaurant, we look at the décor, the prices, the reputation. We form quick judgments about the appearance and perhaps the accent of the person who is serving us. We behave and interact accordingly, to at least some subtle – or not so subtle – degree.

I saw a Facebook posting recently by someone who experienced what was unarguably very poor customer service, in any context. The cashier had cursed and thrown paper at this acquaintance of mine. In response to this person’s Facebook post describing the incident, however, another person commented, “They work those jobs for a reason.” What reason is that? And what gives any outsider the right to automatically assume with such confidence that only a certain type of person with only a certain level of competency, morality, and worth, would end up working a customer service job in a casual, run-of-the-mill restaurant?

I worked at a coffee shop while I was in nursing school for my Masters in Nursing at a well-regarded university. As I poured coffee and fetched napkins and mopped floors, I could feel that unspoken stigma towards me and towards my coworkers, many of whom were quite brilliant. I have to confess that I felt a strong need to explain that I was only working that job in passing, on my way to my Masters. See, I have bought into that mindset as well. I’m guilty too. But I hope I’ve changed and am still changing for the better since my time in that coffee shop. Because I’ve seen that for many people who work “those jobs,” their reason for being there is because they are incredibly hard-working, sacrificial, and humble. Some have travelled unimaginable roads that I am not strong enough to endure, in order to secure “those jobs.” They are their family’s heroes, their community’s heroes. And they serve some people who come in with their fancy cars and poor coffee shop behavior, day after day after day. Those friends of mine are my very misunderstood heroes. Not all people in “those jobs” are worth-less. And not all people in the CEO chair behave any better by virtue of their job title, nor are they worth more.

Why we have allowed this curious aspect of shame to pervade even our dining experiences and day-to-day business transactions is a question worth asking. I am an awkward fine diner trying not to feel ashamed about my lack of class. I am a blessed middle class working woman trying to remember not to shame others who very often work much, much harder than me, receive much less in return, but deserve so much more.

How about you? Have you ever witnessed or been a part of a dining experience or business transaction that became very awkward because of this aspect of shame? 

why I do not care about social justice

I can not and should not tell his story. Not in the way that he could. This former gang member had just finished giving our class of nursing students a tour of Homeboy Industries, the amazing ministry to at-risk, formerly gang-involved youth, and the recently incarcerated, headed by Father Gregory Boyle. To conclude the tour, he sat down with us in a small room and told us of his life. Grew up with a father addicted to heroin and an older brother heavily involved in gangs. Hoped as a child to experience what it was like to have a child of his own, before he would probably die around age 18 if he was lucky. Ended up in the hospital one time after a bad scuffle, and felt the pain of the wounds not from his latest altercation, but from the judgmental comments and looks of scorn from the nurses who took one look at his tattoos, heard his unsophisticated language, and thereby deemed him worthless, no good, society’s trouble. He had grown accustomed to those comments and looks from everyone else in the community. But he didn’t expect them to come from the nurses too. The healers. The caregivers. Them too.  Huh.

All he wanted was another chance at life. On so many levels.

He pled with us through tears, and so I vowed with tears, to never look at these young men and women through such a dark lens. I believe so deeply in social justice, I said to myself. I kept this vow faithfully in my head and in my heart.

Until one of these young people showed up in the room that I was assigned to for my nursing shift.

The language.

The music. The very, very loud music. How can that be therapeutic?

The simple questions about this disease that my proud, educated self was so tempted to shun.

I saw my prejudices emerge from a hidden place that I was so sure did not exist in me. I saw my impatience grow with each ring of the nurse call light, but he started and ended every request with please and thank-you, respectively. Through the rough language, the very, very loud music, and the questions that came from a place that never afforded him a chance to learn, shone a heart of gold. This patient humbled me with his repeated expressions of deep, sincere gratitude for my help. Deep gratitude for life, for family, for everything that meant anything to him.

I realized that I can’t say I truly care about social justice until I learn to care about the actual people who need it the most. Until I learn to serve them with a level of humility and gratitude that can match even a tenth of theirs. Until I learn to talk with them in their language. Until I’m even just willing to talk with them, period, rather than cut short conversations because they make me too uncomfortable, with them, and moreso, with myself.

Maybe. Just maybe, one day, I will learn to care about social justice.

the protest of grace

The purchasing of and the moving into our first home has elicited from deep within me the most obsessive-compulsive dysfunction of my soul to date. I knew I didn’t do well with chaos, but I didn’t think I did this poorly. I realize it is one thing to feel a new and different sense of emotional attachment once you own rather than rent, such that you want to create a new kind of space to call home for the long-run. I think there is something right and beautiful and God-inspired in that. But somewhere in there, something in me has gone slightly awry and my strong perfectionist spirit is threatening to take hold on so many levels. I will confess. Somewhere in there is a twisted and broken need in me to show off how beautiful I have made my home.

And so, the protest of grace steps in through a houseguest that the perfectionist in me would say has come at just the wrong time. We had nothing to offer but an air mattress for his first evening in our home full of boxes, tools, trash, and a couple pieces of fruit that made it over from the old place. He slept happily and without complaint. When mealtimes came and went, I would eventually realize how I’d single-mindedly gone about the endless task of unpacking with hardly a thought as to what we might feed our guest. He waited graciously for me to realize that perhaps some amount of caloric intake might do us all some good, and as he waited for the food to arrive, he went about swapping out our old toilet seat with a new one. I protested his generosity and servanthood. He protested with grace. Let me do this for you. I want to. I was surprised at how deeply I struggled to receive this from him.

There is a bitterness that eventually comes with the elusive pursuit of perfectionism. The bitterness of constant failure, the bitterness of exhaustion, the bitterness of comparison, the bitterness of resentment for the freedom that others feel when they are free from perfectionism’s cruel shackles. The protest of grace is hard to hear when you are convinced people will love you more if you could just be perfect. How can you really be ok with my messy, chaotic home and an air mattress? How can you really not mind that I haven’t fed you and that you are instead changing out a dirty toilet seat while your stomach quietly rumbles? The simplicity of grace is offensive to my pride. But secretly, I ache for it, deeply.

It’s time to let myself sit with my boxes of junk and just be at home once again in the gracious heart of Christ.

content in plenty

The year 2011 did not end anywhere close to the way we had anticipated, and that has rolled over into the start of 2012. As Advent began, I was determined to keep it simple, with minimal shopping. If anything, I wanted to exert my energies during the holiday season on purging the house of all the excess clutter. Simplify. Downsize in some ways. A quiet and low-key Christmas season just focusing on the Savior.

Well, the purging happened. But it happened in the midst of a completely different context than I had imagined.

We bought a house, our first. We went from 0 to 100, from a casual visit to a nearby open house to getting a pre-approval letter to putting in an offer to accepting a counteroffer to winning the bid, in five days. We went from that whirlwind straight into the whirlwind of escrow, which is where we currently find ourselves now. And the madness joy of moving is what lies very closely ahead.

So much for simple. So much for minimal shopping. I never have, and God-willing, never will again spend so much money in one short month. The Chinese reluctant spender in me is balking.

Everyone keeps reminding me that the stress is coming out of a good thing. I keep reminding myself that everything I am feeling stressed about is everything I have to be so very thankful for. A house to call our own. Financial resources to be able to afford it and the seemingly endless things that come with it.

It’s that seemingly endless list – the furniture, the appliances, the potential décor – that has me thinking about what Paul says in Philippians 4 when he says he has learned what it is to be content in Christ, both in times of need and in times of plenty.

The lure of needing the next thing is stronger than I realized when you buy a house. It’s strange, that the very things we think might make us more content, can actually foster greater discontentment. Case in point: We purchased a new washer and dryer. The next thing I know, I get an email from the store advertising items that other shoppers also bought when they purchased similar appliances. Don’t you think you need a laundry pedestal too? I’d never heard of such a thing until now. I was fine with all the extra, smart, already-existing storage space in the new house. But now that the store mentions it, boy that laundry pedestal is a great idea. There are so many extra things that would go so nicely with all our extra things.

Just. Say. NO.

The husband and I keep reminding each other, just because there is space does not mean we need to fill it. We are trying our hardest to fight for an open, clutter-free (or perhaps more realistically speaking, clutter-reduced) home, where the wide open spaces allow Christ to be the one to fill our hearts with contentment that much more during this season of ‘plenty.’ This past Sunday, the husband preached on the topic of a blessing. It is so common for us to wish blessings upon one another, especially at the turn of a New Year, but we don’t always know what we are wishing for. Or we do, but it’s so different from what God actually intends in fulfilling our quest for joy. Ultimately, our greatest blessing, our greatest joy, is found in the person of Christ. To know Him, more of Him, all we can of Him. These were the musings of my last post. And so, while we genuinely appreciate the expressions of joy and congratulations that dear friends have shared with us concerning the purchase of this house, we ask more than anything that you keep us accountable to this prayer.

Lord God, give us grace to move and live with a right perspective, with open hearts and hands. To not be driven by subtle pride or vanity. To not buy things just because we can. But to fight for a life of simplicity so that our stewardship can help others who are in much, much greater need, ultimately so that eyes would be lifted up more and more to the eternal beauties of You, and less and less to the temporary things of this earth.