Torn in two

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:8

I was picking up the house recently when something stopped me dead in my tracks.  Literally, I took one step forward and froze.  Looking down at our coffee table, I saw some mailers that have sat for over a week.  Each one was complimentary and was delivered to my home – ironically arriving within a day of each other.  When they arrived, I placed them on my coffee table like I do with current mailers and never gave it another thought.

This time, my heart skipped a beat as I gazed, with fresh eyes, at the dichotomy of these things. See for yourself…

Do you see what I see?  Contradiction.  Two worlds clashing.

Both of those reflect me, and I am frustrated!  On one hand, my heart is passionate for all people and want no one to suffer.  I want everyone to know the love of Jesus and have all of their needs met; for everyone to realize their goals and dreams; and for peace and provisions worldwide.

On the other hand, I get stuck in what I know as normal.  I like Restoration Hardware (though I can’t afford most of what they sell).  I like their style, ideas, and clean lines.  It’s not just Restoration Hardware, but this is the mailer that happened to be sent at the same time as PrayerPoint.  I’m not picking on it, but I am confused with where it all stands with me.

I think I’ve spent my life like most people in America.  I have not been blind to the world around me, but honestly, it didn’t directly affect my daily 24/7.  The needs and injustices of this world have always made me want to help, and we do what we can, but within the longitutde and latitude of my life in America, there is a whole different normal.

I’m not saying there is not hardship and suffering here. There is. But, comparatively, we do not live in a war-torn land; we have freedom of speech & religion; we have basic things like paved roads, clean water and electricity;  we have sanitation systems that keep infection and disease down; we have laws (albeit not perfect!) against child labor, for safe working conditions, to monitor sanitation levels in restaurants, hospitals, etc.; truancy laws to keep kids in school; laws against child abuse, parent abuse and spousal abuse; and we have legal rights in the justice system.  Take away the tangible things and America is still, by far, a very rich place in which to live.

Most people in the world have far fewer rights and protections and live on $1 or less per day.  26,000 people, including children, die every day from preventable diseases and illnesses.  The rate of human trafficking, starvation, drought and political conflict is mind-boggling.  Does it affect where my kids go to school?  Where I buy my groceries? Where I go to church? I must admit, for many years I kept the two dichotomies separated.  We help locally and globally, but my daily grind did not know the physical hardships of most people in the world.

In the last few years, however, God has awoken me from a hazy sleep.  He broadened my narrow vision in a whole new way.  With the organizations we volunteer for, God has given us more work and responsibilities.  With our church, God has given us more opportunities to serve.

It’s a whole different story to know orphans that I call by name and pray for every day.  Whose faces are on the walls of my daughter’s bedroom and who are smiling at me every time I close my eyes wondering how they are doing in Kenya.  Children we’ve met, played with and held.  Teens who have dreams and hopes and goals, but little to no help to achieve them.

No one is less important than anyone else, but “here” and “there” have felt light years apart for years.

I’ve always been a huge advocate for water conservation because I grew up in an area where there was a constant threat of drought.  I try to do my part by taking very short showers; turning off the water when brushing my teeth; dumping boiled vegetable water on my outdoor potted plants; watering indoor plants with leftover cups of water; using large shade trees to cool the grass instead of a sprinkler system; and using water-saving car washes (only when truly needed) versus the hose water running down the gutter.  Very little water goes to waste in our house.  Even still, I feel so guilty for using any of it because I saw the miles people walk, barefoot and carrying plastic jugs, to fetch their daily water supply.  The water I wash my dishes with is far cleaner than the only water many people have to drink.

And, we have a house.  It’s not the biggest, it’s not the smallest.  We do, however, use every square inch of it – none of it wasted space.  One could look at the daily messes in it to know that it is true!  But, how many people in the world have a house?  Not many.   Every night when we say prayers with the kids, we thank God for a bed to sleep in and a roof over our heads.  But, we also pray for those who don’t have such luxuries.

That’s my point.  Why do some people call them luxuries and some call it a normal standard of living?  It’s all what we’re used to.

My life has been used to one way of living.  My heart has always known better.  As I experience more of this planet, the gap between the two dichotomies is only growing wider and it’s tearing me in two.

How do I enjoy things like flipping through a Restoration Hardware catalog and dreaming of the what-ifs, while I know children are dying because they don’t have simple vaccines or enough food to survive?

How do I serve those who need help, but still be thankful for what God has blessed me with like a full belly, shoes on my feet, and a home with doors to lock and a van to drive?

I can’t figure this out.  Part of me wants to sell everything and move to a faraway land.  Part of me feels called to stay put and continue the ministries that we do stateside that help people all over the world because of the resources we have here.

The summer before God called our family to short-term mission, we put a pool in the backyard of our home that we’ve lived in for 15 years.  It’s not a huge pool, but it fits the size of our motley crew.  We saved for a very, very long time and made sacrifices in other areas to make it happen.  It has been a great tool to strengthen our family time, and we love to have extended family and friends over to enjoy it with us.   But, the next summer we surprisingly found ourselves in Africa, and this summer we are preparing for another mission to a different part of the world, and my husband and I wonder if we did the right thing with the pool.  We are deeply thankful God allowed us to save the money to do it, but I also now know a lot better now how far that money could go to help people simply survive.  If we had the same choice to make all over again, would we build it?  And is this a contradiction to my water conservation awareness?

Ug.

I may never find a balance within my heart with these two parts of me.  The world itself is not balanced.  It does bother me, however, to not even notice the two vastly different mailers sitting right next to each other on my coffee table as if they were equal reading.  They are not.

One thing I can do is this:

  • Continue to teach my children the difference between need and want (Matthew 6: 25-33)
  • Teach them the value of serving others (Matthew 20:26-28)
  • Teach them to consider others more highly than they consider themselves (Philippians 2:3)
  • Teach them not to be afraid of hard work (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12)
  • Teach them to be grateful for what they have, not to have too much of it, and be willing to share it (Philippians 3:12-13; Acts 2:44-45)
  • Teach them the value of money and its proper place in our lives (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
  • Teach them to tithe (Leviticus 27:30; Matthew 22:21)
  • Teach them to work as unto the Lord and not for the glory of people or ourselves (Ephesians 6:7-8; Colossians 3:23-24)
  • Talk with them about ways they can use their gifts and talents to make a difference in this world (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Talk with them about what lasts in this world – and what doesn’t (Matthew 6:19-21)
  • Talk with them about love and who deserves our whole heart (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • Encourage them to always look for good to do…and do it (1 Timothy 6:18)
  • Example all of this in my own life first.

Children truly imitate their parents – for better or worse.  If we want to play a role in helping this world survive for generations to come, change needs to begin with us.

Decades ago, my mom clipped a poem by Charles Kingsley and pinned it to our kitchen corkboard.  This little piece of paper is one of the only (and most beloved) treasures I have left from losing everything in catastrophic loss when I was a teen.  Below is a scan of the original.

Every time I try to wrap my head around the dichotomy of my world and the world, I end up with more questions than answers.  Returning from Africa, I feel like I have no home.  Like I told a friend, I’m not comfortable living in this society because we have so much, but I’m not sure I could handle living there with its unrelenting hardships.

I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere.

I think that’s exactly where God wants our hearts.  As Christians, we are citizens of another world.  A world our eyes cannot see, but one our hearts are drawn to.  This isn’t where we belong.  It shouldn’t be comfortable.  Pardon the double negative, but it shouldn’t be a place that we wouldn’t want to leave if the Lord called us home.

John 18:36 – Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 

Philippians 3:20-21 –  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

1 Peter 2:11 – Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

I can relate as someone who finds herself a nomad at heart, a stranger passing through this life.

God wants us to enjoy His gift of life, to enjoy the tangible and intangible blessings of life, and be thankful for what He has given us (not which was attained by selfish desire).  But, He never meant for us to keep it all to ourselves.  I’m not only referring to money and physical resources, He also wants us to share our time, talents and energy; our love, friendship and humor; everything that makes us unique that He inspired in us for His purposes.  Most of all, He wants us to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, the free gift of eternal life that the world cannot take away.

As the world economy and our American economy both feel the tremble of emerging fault lines beneath our feet, serious thought and prayer need to play a major part in how we spend every dollar and donate every hour of our time & resources.  Time is short.  Life is precious.  God help us.

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