Changing the Season of Darkness into the Season of Light…

When we lived in the city we had a strategy for homeless people or those on the sidewalks with signs. We carried gift cards for Subway and gave them out one or two at a time. It seemed mostly satisfactory, until one day a guy asked how much was it worth. Later that same week I discovered a “cash-in your gift cards here” machine in the local grocery store.

We have since moved to a small town/rural area, and the people with signs aren’t so frequent. I don’t carry gift cards any more, and I rarely have cash with me, so I mostly just feel bad when I see someone with a Need Help sign.

I was thinking this morning of something that happened last fall before 2020 happened: I had made an uncharacteristic stop at Walmart to get Burt’s Bees chapstick. While there, I bought a rotisserie chicken for dinner. As I was leaving the parking lot, there was an older man standing at the curb. I could barely read his sign; all I got was “Need Help, Lost Job…”

I drove by.

I had a twenty dollar bill in my purse and a chicken for dinner. Playing on the car audio system was “More Like You” by Scott Wesley Brown. If you don’t know that song, the chorus goes like this:

More like you, Jesus, More like you, Touch my lips with holy fire, and make me more like you.

At the bottom of the hill, I turned around and drove back to where he was standing. I gave him the twenty dollar bill and prayed that he would use it wisely. I don’t know. I’m not writing this for any praise from you because it wasn’t my first thought to be generous. It wasn’t even my second thought. And for all I know, he went out and bought drugs or whiskey with it. But the story that keeps coming to mind is from C.S. Lewis: he was walking with a friend and he gave a generous amount of money to a street person. The friend gently chided him, saying the standard remark, “You know, he’ll probably just drink it up.” To which Lewis replied, “Well, so would I.” (This is from a biography of Lewis by Owen Barfield — who actually was that friend…)

But there’s another quote that’s not so well known in Letters to an American Lady.  Lewis writes, “It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been “had for a sucker” by any number of impostors; but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need.”

I’m not suggesting we give money to every homeless person; we all have to figure out  how to live generously and thankfully, and what that means is different for everyone. But the events of this year — from pandemics to hurricanes and wildfires to racial unrest to large scale economic upheaval — have left so many of us feeling overwhelmed by the need. And feeling overwhelmed, I am trying to figure out what I can do.

sunriseToday is the first Sunday in Advent. As we await the light coming in this dark year of dark years, I suggest we choose something to do about it. It could be giving anonymously to someone in need. It could be making a meal for someone who is alone. Maybe every Thursday in Advent, you call someone you’ve been thinking about. Yesterday I read a suggestion–that instead of buying Christmas presents this year, we all donate to food pantries or agencies that are struggling to help people in need. We’re considering this: I’m thinking about making cards to send to family members explaining our strategy. Now, more than ever, is a good time to reconsider our spending habits and instead of spending our money on Cyber Monday, let’s spend it on Giving Tuesday instead…

I’m interested to hear if you have any plans to make this Advent season of 2020 different. To bring joy. To bring light. To this hurting world.

38. Fighting the Lesser Gods

We spent too much on a kitchen faucet two weeks ago. I am suffering from Buyer’s Remorse.

Our beautiful new brushed stainless steel kitchen faucet

Our beautiful new brushed stainless steel kitchen faucet

I’ve been trying to excuse it. I’ve been rationalizing it by telling myself that we have saved $$ on so much else for the kitchen by buying at restores, redoing old stuff, and repurposing other stuff. Hmm, the key words here are much and stuff

I’ve been telling myself that it is a quality faucet, and it will last forever. After all, it has a ceramic cartridge, it is made of stainless steel, and it won’t rust. Hmm, the key words here are quality and forever.

It’s difficult to be rehabbing a kitchen and trying to fight that impulse of materialism. The two just don’t go together. I can get caught up in the look I want; the colors I want; the type of flooring I want. The key words here are pretty obvious…I want.

I want much quality stuff forever…

We’ve been trying to be thrifty and balanced — nothing outlandishly pricey or ostentatious. Simple even. After all, there are people living in tents in Haiti; in huts in Malawi; in tenements in this very city. (Remember those starving people in China who would have eaten those peas I wouldn’t eat as a kid?)

Last week I was cleaning out my home library and found this: 20121211-150009.jpg

I don’t know where it came from, but I saved it. And I found it again at a time when I needed to be reminded.

In this time of gross materialism (I mean Christmas, but it could just as well be any time here in 21st century America) we all need to be reminded. It is not about stuff, even quality stuff, even quality stuff that lasts forever. Because as Jesus reminds us, the earthly treasures rust and get moth-eaten — yes, even stainless steel faucets. The forever treasures are what we need to want; those are what last.

I was reminded convicted again yesterday when I read my morning devotions. Sarah Young writes in Jesus Calling:

I carefully crafted your longings and feelings of incompleteness, to point you to Me. Therefore, do not try to bury or deny these feelings. Beware also of trying to pacify these longings with lesser gods: people, possessions, power.

God carefully created us to long for Him. There is a hole in our human hearts that can only be filled by Him. And instead we fill it with stuff, work, family, lovers and mates, hobbies, eating, shopping, sports, even church — you pick one (or two or three…)

These things are not necessarily bad unless they become replacements for God — Lesser Gods. I don’t know about you, but I fight those lesser gods all the time.

When I win, I can feel Jesus smiling on the person who struggles to be like him and sometimes manages a shadow of His presence.

When I lose, He gently reminds me how imperfect I am. And His gift of grace that covers me is the softest blanket on a cold night.

Yes, it is a beautiful faucet. We own it. I will be happy with it. I will touch it every day, and it will shine as a reminder of my imperfection. And in return, it will remind me to give graciously and joyfully to someone in need. I can’t make up for my greed; I can’t be vindicated for my materialistic sin, but every time I look at that faucet, I can remember.

Running Water

It will remind me of my blessings.

It will remind me that I have the ability to share those blessings.

It will remind me that there are people without faucets, without clean water, without living water…and what am I going to do about it?

I am going to give. One person at a time.

Books to remind us about Simple Living and Giving: