"Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." - Proverbs 30:7-9
I have to admit it. I'm wasteful. I live in a culture of waste. I realized the extent of it after my international travels last fall. As I sit in Starbucks, I watch person after person pour out part of their coffee to make room for cream and sugar - calories they don't need. I'm guilty, in other seemingly subtle ways. I make the most money I've ever made in my life and have the least amount of debt. That adage "time is money" speaks loudly to me. I'm willing and able to pay for conveniences that aren't readily available to others. But it hasn't always been like that for me.
I grew up with humble beginnings in rural North Carolina. My parents got married, entered their careers straight out of high school and had me a few years later. They worked hard everyday to make ends meet and I saw the struggle. My mom had office jobs most of my life, but could only go so far without a college degree. My dad has been a long-distance truck driver all of my life, traveling up and down the east coast. Hand-me-downs, cornbread and beans, box fans in the summer and kerosene heaters in the winter were the norm for me. Many think I'm spoiled because I'm an only child. But quite the opposite is true. My parents didn't have much to give, so I learned not to ask for a lot.
When computers came out, I added it to my Christmas list. It took two years for my Dad to save up enough money to fulfill my wish. I developed patience for what I wanted and gratitude for what I had because I knew it wasn't easy. I received a full scholarship to attend college and was the first graduate in my generation of my family. Once I graduated, I started my career and vowed to take care of myself. I never wanted to be a burden to my parents as an adult.
As a Christian professional woman unmarried, with no children, I have been able to give generously. I have also been able to enjoy abundantly. I can pick up and travel across the country on a whim assuming my work schedule allows. If I see something I want, I buy it. I'm constantly praying to be generous from the heart, to be a good steward always honoring God in my finances. I never want to be tightfisted. But I have to admit... experiences last fall revealed how spoiled and wasteful I have become.
When I travel, I come face to face with how much I take for granted. That's one of the major advantages of traveling internationally. It opens my perspective and teaches me valuable lessons on gratitude and contentment. It also has a way of returning me back to where I come from, helping me to stay grounded to never think too highly of myself.
"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." - Romans 12:3
Being in Nairobi last September taught me invaluable lessons. As the capital and largest city in Kenya, it is the main commercial center of the country. However as Eastern Africa's hub for financial, communication and transportation services, the city doesn't have enough jobs to employ the educated professionals entering the job force. Positions that are available are low paying, making it challenging for most to get above water. The corrupt government and instability of commodities like public transportation and utilities are challenging for entrepreneurs and business owners to thrive and truly contribute to the overall economy. I was able to witness this firsthand with the brothers and sisters I met. I was so encouraged and impacted by the simplicity of life of the locals.
For example, my host was doing an experiment. She felt she was being overcharged for utilities, so she decided to disassemble her shower for a few months to see if not using it would reduce the bill. By taking basin baths in her home, I realized how much water we waste in the US. According to the Alliance of Water Efficiency, the average American shower uses 17.2 gallons (65.1 liters) and lasts for 8.2 minutes at average flow rate of 2.1 gallons per minute (gpm). Wow! It really doesn't take that much to get clean!
This practice and others prepared me for my trip to Haiti for the Hope Singles Corp six weeks later. There 20 plus volunteers were encouraged to keep our showers short and to save any leftovers for the kids at Oasis, the orphanage where we served and stayed. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Many households lack basic plumbing in their homes. Although there is indoor plumbing at Oasis, well water is pumped to a reservoir on top of the building which requires electricity. The local utility company sources this electricity on a limited basis therefore a generator must be used when power is needed but not in service. Cold and short showers are the norm. Wasting food, deplorable.
In both of these countries, drinking water from public sources is not recommended. It's advisable to drink bottled water or to boil drinking water before consuming to eliminate any potential virus'. Two weeks after returning home from Nairobi, Austin issued a city-wide boil water notice imploring an urgent need for customers to reduce water use. While many of the locals were complaining about the inconvenience, I imagined being back in Nairobi and being content with what I had.
Coming back from Haiti, I dropped and broke my phone. Having been unplugged for a week already, it didn't bother me to be without it for another three days while I got a replacement. In fact, it was actually liberating. I was able to navigate three airports and arrive to Austin with the help of random people (it's a good time to memorize your emergency contact numbers by the way). I found myself more at peace and present.
Two weeks later, my car broke down. In the past, I would usually stress out. "How am I going to get around? How will I get back and forth to work? This is so inconvenient!" were internal thoughts bouncing in my mind. But having experienced taking public transportation because of high gas prices and car thief in Nairobi and traveling by foot due to roadblocks for political riots in Haiti, it didn't seem like a big deal to take a fifteen minute walk to the nearest bus stop while my car was getting repaired. And it provided opportunity for me to meet new people in my community and bond more with my roommate who offered me rides.
Most recently, I've been impacted by the government shutdown in the US. As a federal employee, I've weathered this storm before, but this time gives rise to more uncertainty honestly. But it's amazing how the Lord's peace supersedes understanding of this world. Not knowing when I'd return back to work or if I'd paid, the lessons of simplicity and contentment were enforced. It's a great time of year to be simplifying life and shedding things out that aren't really necessary. Feeding myself out of the abundance in my cabinets and freezer. Scaling back on materialistic things over the holidays. And having more time to connect with others, made it all worthwhile.
I Timothy 6:17 reads, "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."
I am so grateful for the travel opportunities I recently had that brought me back to the fact that less is more. I felt like God was preparing me for moments to come. Moments where I'd be challenged to keep my hope in God, the provider of everything we receive for our enjoyment.
What lessons in gratitude has God taught you through your journeys to new places?
How have these lessons been reinforced in your life after returning home?