Friday, July 13, 2012

A Study in Excess

 I love our house. It is beautiful, new, big-ish, the yard is awesome. God has really blessed and given us the desires of our hearts. The thing we prayed for for so long when we did not have our own home and space.
 However, now I am more of the feeling "Did God give us exactly what we thought we wanted to show us that, in fact, it wasn't what we wanted after all? We had our stuff delivered in 4 separate shipments: what we brought with us the day we moved in, the stuff we emptied out of my parents' house that weekend, and two shipments from the military that came a month apart. When we brought the stuff we bought with us the day we closed on the house and moved in, I thought "what a big space! ah! I can breathe!". After living with my eight other family members in three bedrooms, it was such a relief to have space to let the kids run. Problem number 1? The kids did not run. After a year not having anything to do or anywhere to go (unemployment will do that), they had learned to adapt to staring at computer screens all day. So now I had to literally push them out the door and lock the door behind them, demanding they stay outside at least an hour. The pains of transition? Boy, did I hope so!Problem number 2? I liked how our house was when we brought just the stuff that we had in our van and the things that we brought from my parents house. Besides actual beds which would arrive two weeks later, my minimalist self thought our house had the perfect amount of stuff in it.
Then the REAL stuff came. The stuff that had been in storage for a year. I sincerely prayed that the Lord would just lose the shipment for us. Because this was the worst move and customer service we had ever had (not of the crews in particular, just the handling of our goods), it looked like the Lord had granted my request because our household goods just didn't seem to like to be found. Alas, the shipments came and this is what we were left with.

We have always thought we had done a good job of keeping unnecessary items to a minimum. I can just think better when there is more space, and my husband is happiest when the house is sparkling. But when you have a family of nine.....things can start to take over. Kids "need" their collections of stuffed animals. Homeschooling families acquire books (ugh. I LOVE books! Could spend hours soaking up the quiet and the smell of a bookstore! I never knew I could grow to hate the site of a book so much). Lest anyone get sniffy about their perception that I must just not clean my house (I have had people suggest such), it is seemingly all I do with my time. If I am not chasing a baby, educating a child, or running errands, I am cleaning. I do dishes, pick up toys, vacuum, mop, sweep, wipe, wash, soak, and scrub almost nonstop. The kids have a whole dry erase board devoted to their chores--daily, weekly, monthly, Chores, Chores, Chores. I think it is wonderful for kids to learn to pitch in and keep the house tidy, to learn to serve others, to put aside their own aspirations for that five minutes, to do some old fashioned cleaning. But sometimes I think my kids will have no other memories aside from cleaning. "Mom? What did YOU do as a child?" "Oh, I learned the fine art of scrubbing baseboards and checking off my cleaning list!". We devote our days to an inordinate amount of cleaning. For what? Well, so we can have stuff, of course! Stuff requires time and attention and devotion and STRESS. Don't the above pictures stress you out?

Boy, this is getting long. Hey, I haven't blogged in two months.

I have always been.....a little counter-cultural. Not in the black lipstick sort of way, but more in a "if society says this is what is important, it is probably Biblical to go the exact opposite way!" When I was a kid, this kind of thinking just presented itself as rebellion. Questioning authority (all authority but God is accountable and must be questioned by someone) took on an arrogant and irreverent tone. Immaturity caused me to be brash many times. Now that I am older and calmer, I am still that counter-cultural girl, but I realize it must have a purpose. I can't be a salmon for myself. James Dean's "rebel without a cause" was frankly just stupid. If there is no cause then it's just called attention-getting and selfish. No, what I have realized in my restless heart for a long time is the feeling that I do not want to spend my life in status quo-ness. But I can't be a renegade for renegade's sake! My life has to count for God. Otherwise, what is the point?

I love America. I love the spirit, the independence, the freedom that we largely still have. But Americans are wallowing in their sense of entitlement, pop culture, and just plain shallowness. We want what we want, no matter who has to pay for it, how much of our one life we have to devote to it, and no matter how little it matters in the grand scheme of eternity. I suppose when people do not believe they are ultimately accountable to anyone but themselves, they will do anything they can to make themselves happy. But this doesn't describe me! I'm a Christian! I have 3 pair of shoes, four shirts and a couple of dresses for church. I try my best to not waste the resources God has given us, and we do not spend a bunch of money on things we do not need. We tithe, give to charity, and donate stuff all the time. Many of the things we have have been gifted to us by other people. So I do not stamp my foot like a petulant toddler, demanding what I want no matter what it takes......right? Well, except for that year that I spent loathing my situation. When I could not watch House Hunters without having a deep, envious longing for MY house. The house that I now have that is filled to the brim with STUFF that I have to yell about regularly because no one cares about the STUFF like my husband and I do. The house that, instead of freedom from homelessness, has now come to represent more debt, more stress and less freedom.

For a long time now I have bemoaning the fact that I feel our kids, while not as spoiled with material things as other kids possibly are, or are involved every expensive activity in the world, are just still just too involved in themselves and completely unaware of the world outside all they know. American kids are largely so woefully unaware of the pain in the rest of the world. As a mom, I want to protect my kids from a lot of that. But darn it! I want them to know how blessed they are! Instead of hearing about what new toy they want to earn money for, I would LOVE to hear them talk about saving up to sponsor a child or give to a water project in Africa. Instead of hearing heartbreaking bickering over whose computer time is next, I want them to be sweet and gracious to each other, cherishing the gift they have in each others' friendship. I know this is my job. It has to be possible. Here is where I really feel like a salmon! In this country, saying no to MORE pop culture, MORE toys, MORE entertainment, MORE STUFF. I never thought I would say American kids are disadvantaged in any way. I don't know about other American kids, but mine are disadvantaged in this one way: being able to see how much they have been blessed with. To see others' poverty and react with shock and how much they take for granted (running water!).

The other day I saw a blog post about recommended books and the books Seven and Kisses from Katie were on the list. I downloaded samples for my Kindle app (spoiled mom! but I can't handle another paper book in this house right now). Kisses from Katie made me cry in the first couple of pages. When my youngest son saw it, he was concerned and wanted me to stop reading. When I described what was going on in the book, he said "and these are REAL kids?". I hate crying over fiction. I do not waste the time on it. But stories such as I read in the opening chapters of this book? I do not have the right to ignore them. The book Seven: an Experimental Mutiny Against Excess is so funny and so real. It is about a pastor's wife and mom who decides to whittle down the excess in her life. One part about an interaction between her and her kids and their dinner really resonated with me. I get it. I really do.

Anyway, I do not know where this whole irritation with complacency and excess and the desire to do something for God will lead me. I do know I will be getting rid of a lot of stuff. The stuff that causes unnecessary stress in a family. The stuff that we have to buy bigger houses for and other stuff to maintain the stuff. Enough already!


Amy and Cat said...

I am with you, friend. These deep unspoken "American'isms" are resonating silently within me too. Especially as we paddle our way across the Atlantic in the next 8 months. Life with a deeper meaning and purpose includes less "stuff", for sure. Probably - our stuff should have purpose and meaning too --and be the means to move us in a forward direction; if it doesn' goes! Great and thoughtful post. We are actually looking for a smaller house when we get back for this very reason!

Shannon said...

I know I've told you this before via email, but it's super scary how much you think the thoughts that I think!!! LOL Oh how I've had buyer's remorse buying this house, and having as much as we do (and granted, like you, we truly don't buy a lot of crap and expensive stuff--Ethan and Evan never had DS's or a lot of toys for that matter). Josh and I were discussing the other day truly becoming self-sufficient. God meant for it to be that way, not to have all of this crap! Yes, I do think American kids (most) are at a disadvantage from a heart perspective. They are selfish and have no compassion for others. Take it one day at a time, Steph. We are out own worst enemy. We cannot change everything all at once. I have to remind myself that just about every day (or hubby or a dear friend will remind me). But we can take baby steps to intentionally change what we do not like. I thoroughly enjoyed this post!

Cherishing My Days said...

I have such cool friends. That you guys just "get it" instead of writing me off as some wild eyed crazy is just the best!

Cherishing My Days said...

I have such cool friends. That you guys just "get it" instead of writing me off as some wild eyed crazy is just the best!

Hope.C said...

Whoa... Well that was intense. Scary intense. You remind me of Clair Huxtable! You may not be feminist or that whole weirdo mumbo jumbo, but you've got ATTITUDE. I mean, I'm so shocked! I don't know what to think of you now! How about, REBEL OF THE CENTURY. May I join you? lolololol. I love my rebelling attitude i have against society today. I feel like kicking Satan in the butt right now!!!