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Archive for July 15th, 2013

Good-bye Magic Kingdom

We were in the car on our way home from camping in the mountains – a blessed retreat from triple-digit temperatures and a broken air conditioner – when I read an article to the family from my July issue of Home Life magazine that was intended to be a wake-up call to us self-absorbed Americans.  It described us as living in the “Magic Kingdom” (comparing the American life to a trip to Disneyland) while most of the world lives in the “Tragic Kingdom,” where millions go to bed hungry, have no clean water, live under the constant threat of violence, dying from diseases we’re all inoculated against.  It issued a call to Christians to quit justifying our “wants” as “needs,” and obey Jesus’ call to spread the good news of his Kingdom here on earth.

You’d think all the statistics about the poor and suffering would knock me off my barcalounger of apathy, but you’d be wrong.  Instead, I found myself thinking, “Hmmm…the Magic Kingdom sounds fun.  We could totally squeeze that into our trip to see the grandparents next summer.  We’ve never been to Disney WORLD.  (Just Disneyland.  Three times.)  And Epcot would be soooooooo educational!”  (Us homeschoolers have a whole bag of excuses to explain just about any purchase as being educational.  A trip to the water park?  Educational!  They’ll learn about fluids and water displacement and a whole bunch of stuff…that I don’t know.)  In reality, we don’t need to drive to the opposite corner of the country to have an educational field trip.  We’re going to Yellowstone in a few weeks – which is about as educational as it gets – and I’m so not excited.

Kids: “Hey Mom!  Look at that ___________ (geological wonder that I could care less about)!”
Husband: “That’s a ___________ (smartypants explanation I still don’t care about).”
Me: “If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the gift shop.”

This is pretty much how most of our “educational” trips go.  I’m all in favor of them in theory, but in practice, I just.  Don’t.  Care.  So my “it’s educational” excuse was pretty flimsy to begin with.  But the thing that kills me is that after reading this article I was supposed to be sickened by American over-consumption, not heaping a second helping on my plate!

We got home from our trip and I had this nagging feeling that the Holy Spirit had some words for me while I was busy putting Mickey ears on and planning our next vacation.  I honestly don’t know how it happened, but a few days later I found myself buying the Kindle edition of Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  (Apparently, the Holy Spirit couldn’t wait for the paperback to arrive and needed the instant version.)  I won’t tell you all about the book because I strongly encourage you to read it (and laugh/cry throughout the whole thing), but it basically chronicles the author’s experience giving up various aspects of the American lifestyle that keep us focused on ourselves instead of focusing on God.  The general idea is that when we fast instead of feast, we create space for God to fill and allow him to redirect our priorities to things like giving to the poor.

Even though I LOVE her writing style and couldn’t put the book down, I resisted the Holy Spirit at first.  I kept thinking, “This is about Disney World, isn’t it.”  Wow.  Talk about an idol!

Me: “But God, we’ve been poor for so long and have given up so many things.  <insert list of ‘sacrifices’ for God>  We can finally afford to do a big trip, so what’s the big deal?”
Jesus: “Really?  That’s the best use of the resources I’ve given you?”
Me: “When else are we going to have an opportunity like this?  It’s so educational!”
Jesus: (Gagging.  Probably with a spoon.)
Me: “Wull <insert whiny, teenage voice>, everyone on Facebook is posting their cool vacations.  Why can’t I do fun stuff, too!!”
Jesus: “Yeah, we’re going to be talking about Facebook soon.”
Me: (Gulp.) “But I waaaaaaaaaaaaaan’t it.”
Jesus: “If any of you (whiny teenage girls) wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”

I got as far as chapter three in the book and realized that I needed to make some changes, whether I felt like it or not.  I knew God was saying, “Stop spending all your money on yourself and wake up to the needs of those who can’t help themselves.”  I sat in the Albertson’s parking lot with my car full of groceries I didn’t need, but bought because they were on sale, and confessed to God that I’m willing to help the poor.  I just don’t know any.  (Ouch.)  I promised him that if he showed me a need, I would obey.  That night at dinner, I casually mentioned to the kids that if we gave up eating out, we could sponsor a child through Compassion International and provide for the needs of someone who is less fortunate than us.  They asked if we could still go out to eat for birthdays, which seemed reasonable to me, so we pulled up the website and found a little girl in Uganda who shares my daughter’s birthday.  My sweet daughter now includes Miriam in her prayers at night, asking God to take care of her African sister in Christ.

Oh Lord, forgive me.  I was blind, but now I see.

The spiritual obstacle of entitlement runs deep through the veins of American society.  Slick marketing tells us we deserve the best, so if we have the money for something we want, we buy it.  (And we find ways to still buy what we can’t afford, becoming slaves to debt.)  What’s shocking to me is how quickly we can go from feeling poor because we actually are (like during our 18 months of unemployment) to feeling entitled to have what we want because we can finally afford it.  This may sound absurd to someone who’s never had to tighten their belt financially, but here’s the truth: It’s easier to be poor.  When you don’t have much money, the answer to every question is “No.”  You don’t have to decide if you really need something because if it’s not going in your belly, it doesn’t go in the cart.  Period.

The challenge comes when money starts to pad the bank account again.  You’re FINALLY able to update your 5-year-old wardrobe of almost-indecent jeans and used-to-be-black-but-now-it’s-sorta-grey faded shirts.  You FINALLY get some stuff fixed and replaced because even legitimate needs had to be put off.  You praise God for all your blessings, but never ask him what he’d like to do with them.  It’s so easy to assume any financial blessing is somehow deserved (because you worked SO HARD while being poor), and God must want me to sit back and enjoy my blessings.  After all, I earned them.

Um…  (Yes, I know how dumb that sounds, Jesus, but I…I…I…)

Yes, “I” is the problem.  The American lifestyle is all about ME.  Enter conversation about Facebook.  (Thanks, Jen, <insert sarcasm> for chapter 4 on Media!)

Jesus: “I want you to fast from Facebook.”
Me: “But it would be a shame not to use my gift of sarcasm to bring joy to the dozens of people who ‘Like’ my witty observations.”
Jesus: “The world will keep spinning without you.”
Me: “But how will I know what’s going on in the lives of people I sorta knew once?”
Jesus: “How about if you focus on the relationships around you, like your kids who would like your attention, only you’re too busy checking your timeline like a crack addict to see who ‘likes’ your status.”
Me: “In my defense, I post plenty about you, Jesus.”
Jesus: “But maybe I’d like you to spend more time talking TO me, instead of ABOUT me.  Maybe it’s time for you to focus on me, instead of on crafting the perfect status update.”
Me: “But if I unplug, I’ll be left out.  If I stop talking about myself, will anyone even notice?  What if I am forgotten?”
Jesus: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

So here I am, unplugged from life support for stay-at-home moms.  With no other writing outlet, I’m back on the blog.  (Don’t you feel blessed?)  It’s time to stop thinking of myself all the time, which is an easy habit to develop when you’re hooked up to the social media machine.  I’m also taking a sabbatical from consumption and – in keeping with the “7” theme from the book – limiting myself to 7 items/categories at the grocery store for the next 7 weeks:

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 2 cartons of eggs
  • 1 starch (either a bag of tortillas, potatoes, or rice)
  • 1 fat (oil, butter, or peanut butter)
  • 1 bag of spinach or 2 lb. bag of carrots (lasts 2 weeks, so I can alternate between the two)
  • 8-10 bananas (for breakfast, baking, and a frozen treat – we LOVE plain frozen bananas)
  • Whatever fruits/veggies I can find at the local Farmer’s Market (hence, the bananas getting their own line item, since Idaho is not famous for bananas)

Exceptions to the list include things like toilet paper and personal hygiene products.  (We want to stop over-consumption, not gross people out.)  My weekly budget will be limited to $50, including the exceptions, and I will have to make due with whatever items are already in my pantry/freezer/food storage compound.  (Squirrels would be so jealous of my storage skills.)  When the chips are gone, they’re gone.  (Note to husband who is reading this and hyperventilating: Fear not.  We have 2 lbs. of bacon safely hidden beneath the frost heaves in our freezer.)  It’s time for me to exercise my self-control muscles (which have been atrophying while I sit on the couch, scrolling through my news feed).  I will not stock up on any more good deals until I’ve eaten the ones in my freezer.  I will say no to the sale on gluten free junk food – yes, it’s a “good deal” and no, you still don’t need it.

I will choose to fast instead of feast on all my choices, recognizing that when I have enough it’s time to stop consuming.  I will choose to stop the endless (and nauseating) repeats on the ME Network.  I will look at the picture of Miriam on our fridge every day as I am about to feed my appetite, and pause to remember and pray for those who have no food.  I will be grateful that God got my attention with a $4000 air conditioner replacement, reminding me that stuff breaks and lets us down, but God never will.  I will give God the space created in my schedule by not shopping at 4 stores and reading articles shared on Facebook, and allow him to redirect my priorities (including the remaining amount in my grocery budget).

I hope that the next 7 weeks bring about a change of heart, kicking apathy out the door and welcoming the Holy Spirit to teach me what it means to love my neighbor as myself.  If only I could post this on Facebook…

To follow my journey over the next several weeks, check out the posts under the category “My Fast” on the right.

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