It has been a challenging month. Since December 12, God has used me in ways that I didn’t think he would. I have been in more uncomfortable situations more than I can remember, and with people I have never associated with. I’ve slept on bunk beds, the ground, tables, and not at all. I’ve shared meals, stories, and laughs with the homeless, poor, widows, orphans, and drug addicts. I’ve seen more of the gospel revealed to me in ways that only God can show in our brokenness. I’ve also written more than ever, save for high school.
Let’s Start with Haiti
I’ve already written about my experience in Haiti here, here, and made a video. I keep coming back to it. The simplicity of life, worship, community, and struggle is strangely intoxicating. Today is the 2 year “anniversary” of the Earthquake that wrecked an already struggling country. If you need a reminder, read this straight-from-Haiti account from my friend Jeremy Schurke. People who I haven’t seen since I returned ask about it, and I still haven’t come up with great talking points.
There is struggle, faith, hope, and love. There is voodoo, crime, and pain. There are fantastic drivers. I had never been out of the country, and certainly not a 3rd world country. I took a lot in, didn’t talk as much as I normally do, and listened. I tried to speak creole. I played soccer with a milk jug and basketball with a basketball (c’mon people, don’t be silly). I talked to Haitians about their faith and God. I realized how much we have butchered the English language, as a Haitian friend studied the book, How to Speak English Like an American.
A heart of gold? What does that even mean?
I made new friends, woke up early, watched the stars at night, and wrote consistently. Mission of Hope and Lespwa are doing amazing work in Haiti, I encourage anyone to support them. What is staying with me is how God made it possible for us to go, and then made me very uncomfortable when I was there.
The poverty, trash, hunger, and disease was overwhelming. But then so was Church, the way people smiled, and spoke to us. I felt guilt over having so much, the simple blessings of food, shelter, clothes, and warmth. The Haitian people didn’t have much, but they had their faith.
Israel – “Without God in my life, I am nothing. This is the same for you, no?”
Me – “Yes, of course. God is everything.”
Except he’s not, I instantly realized. He’s a part, and sometimes not even at the top. This shamed me more than my house full of possessions. Because I often live like God is a simply a part of my life.
“Hope I can fit you in today Creator! There’s work, my wife, dog, cleaning the house,exercising, writing, checking my social network, words with friends, reading, checking in with friends, reading about Tebow (you must like that though), reading about the Gators new OC (hope he can make the transition to the SEC, did you see Bama’s D!? Of course you did), and playing the guitar. If I play worship songs does that count as scripture and prayer?”
So that was even more about Haiti. God wrecked my pre-conceived notions, ideas, and thoughts. Just like he said he would.
29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:29-30
I’ll be learning from that experience for the rest of my life.
Welcome to Fight Club
This is a great movie (and book), if you can get past the cursing (lots of it), rampant sex and nudity, and general unacceptable social behavior. The message really does have a lot to teach us and bring to light. What I want to hit on is that we are a consumer economy, which is not a surprise to anyone.
We are bombarded with messages of not being pretty enough, rich enough, stylish enough, popular enough, and how to go about changing that. Americans spent $52.4 BILLION dollars on Black Friday alone (via CNNmoney). We have been sold on this obsession that we can never have enough, and in the context of that stuff, it’s true. We try and fill our emptiness with things, instead of God, love, and relationships.
You’re not your job…
You’re not how much money you have in the bank…
You’re not the car you drive…
You’re not the contents of your wallet…
You’re not your khakis…
– Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)
I believe we really think those things at times! We place our identity in all these things instead of in God, which is the only way that we can fill that emptiness and become whole! At the beginning of the movie, Edward Norton’s character wonders which dining set defines him as a person.
This isn’t a critique of a single group of people or lifestyles, it is a mindset that affects many of us to varying degrees.
The things you own, end up owning you.
On to Minimalism
I have plenty of clothes. How many shirts can you wear at once? Well, not including this guy, probably just 2 (including an undershirt). 1 pair of pants at a time, boxers, socks, and shoes. I’m not a guy that enjoys going out and buying new clothes, but I can be picky. I had the mindset that since I didn’t buy much, I deserved to have high-quality on what I did buy!
But still, I bought, accumulated, and became kinda snobby. My wife, wise as she is, said I needed to go through it and give some stuff away. I had probably 30 T shirts, lots of dress shirts, and could rationalize most everything. This was given to me… I have to look nice for this… When I go backpacking I need the best gear. Don’t even get me started on my borderline addiction to outdoor gear, that’s another post entirely. I completely intended to follow her advice and pare the collection down, but had neglected it.
What if I need this? I want to give this specifically to someone… I could probably sell this.
At my weekly man coffee session, my friend Bryce told me about a blog he had been reading on Minimalism. We had talked about Fight Club, and he thought I would like this site, The Minimalists. He was right. I tore through their “essays” and got the kick in the pants my wife was trying to apply (if only I took her advice earlier). I thought of how I overpacked for Haiti, and only wore half of what I brought. After 2 days I looked at my 5 shirts (one for each day) and thought about the lunacy of deciding which shirt would look best on me. It was no more insane to do so back home, where people may even notice I only wear a handful of clothes or don’t have anything new.
So while she was gone for a few days, I filled up 3 boxes worth of clothes that I hadn’t worn in months, or didn’t like as much, and committed to only 3 drawers and 3 shelves. I have 4 pair of underwear (Ex Officio, you know it). All my non-dress clothes can fit there, I always wear what I like, there are no “winter clothes” boxes, and I do less laundry. I packed up all the dining plates, cups, and mugs that we don’t use, forcing us to wash what we use. We’ve pretty much done away with the dishwasher. We’re selling our multiple coffee and end tables, are trying to sell the TV, and gave away a couch. Life feels less cluttered. If I was to go back and live the college life again, I would be a minimalist. Cheaper, easier to organize, pack, and clean! A little word of wisdom for all my college age friends and co-workers.
The stuff that I didn’t give to Goodwill, the homeless shelter, or sell, I wanted to give to friends and family. So I took pictures of everything and put it on Facebook and Google+. The response was fantastic. Several things were claimed, all by people who needed them and would use them more than me. My favorite interaction was from a friend I’ve never met face to face, but Jessica and her husband Raja are two of the bravest people I’ve ever interacted with (though they wouldn’t say that). They spend most of their money on others’ needs, and so for me to be able to give them jeans, a sweater, and black shirt was very humbling for me. It is mere pennies to what they have given others and to God. Read more about their incredible story and their adopted son, Adam.
My Facebook peeps have had plenty of time to pick through it, so here is what I still have. If you would like something, just comment on it and it’s yours. I may ask that you pay the shipping, if you can swing it.
God has also presented my with the opportunity to serve the homeless here in Black Mountain. When the temperature is below 40 degrees, First Baptist Church of Black Mountain opens it doors to the homeless. They probably average 6/night, and are fed, have access to the bathroom, a shower, and bed. Going the first time was a kick in the gut. I saw people there who I had passed on the road several times, too busy or too scared to help. Now here we were, having dinner together, playing Spades, and watching a movie. They were kind and polite, thanking me and Shawn for giving our time.
Once again, I was humbled by the kindness of others, and felt a bit like a fake. I was glad to help, they were changing me just as much as I was helping them. But of course I went home to a warm house and loving family. None of the guests had a warm home, and few had loving families. One man, Robert, told me that he had been homeless and traveling the country for over 20 years. Some were drug addicts, and honestly spoke about using, hitting bottom, and trying to recover. “One day at a time” was the mantra. They knew their shadows intimately well, and were trying to learn from them.
When I wrote about the shadow side and humility, I thought about them. They were not trying to build themselves up or hide their struggles, because to name it was the only way to begin to recover. They also had no need for additional clothes or things, for them minimalism was a way of life. Don’t need what you can’t carry!
It was during an overnight watch that I read The Minimalists 21 Day Journey, and finally had some concrete examples and steps to take. It was humbling to need that kick, that I couldn’t do it on my own or on my wife’s previously stated advice. I have been able to journal and read while there, and get to know my watch partner. The most recent guy, Mel, was 71 and had lived quite a life. Simply in the course of talking, he dispensed wisdom on work, marriage, the importance of possessions, and more.
I used to get excited about going to Haiti, New Orleans, or other places that needed my help. It is ironic that the poor end up helping and teaching me as much as I try and help them. But part of the allure of mission work was the distance, I could help and give fully without thought of embarrassment or shame, because I would never see them again. I was still protecting myself. I have realized though that we are needed to minister and help right in our communities, and that this is as important, if not more so, than going overseas.
If the people that we pass on the street can not count on us to support them and be God’s hands and feet, then we have failed our neighbors. And Jesus has some radical things to say about being neighbors. We can not be afraid or protect our egos. Let God handle our safety and our lives, he’s up for the task.
Adding Everything Up
I don’t need all this stuff. God has enabled me to help others. There is unbelievable poverty 710 miles from Miami. There are homeless and poor in your town. We can break the cycle of poverty and hunger. It is fulfilling to give things away and see them appreciated and used by others. You are not your job. You are not the contents of your wallet. There is hope. You are unique, loved, and created by God.
So, what’s been happening in your life?
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