Lessons from the Cheez Whiz Jar

cheez whiz

Lessons from the Cheez  Whiz Jar by Robynn

Boarding school taught me, among other things, to get what I could. There were so many of us and it seemed that the good stuff was always so limited. We were always asking: How many can I have? And we diligently policed each other.

She took two!

We’re only allowed to have one!

He took the biggest!

It created in us a type of poverty mentality. We were little scavengers. We were a group, a collective, battling it out for our share, for attention, for individuality, for what was ours.

There was a treat cupboard in the dining room at school that reinforced in me the need to be selfish and greedy, to hoard, to protect what I could get for myself! It was a nondescript wooden cupboard at the front of the room. On one side were stored stacks of dull-coloured melamine plates and bowls, on the other side pathetic plastic mugs with limp handles. In the middle lay the sacred treat cupboard. There was a latch, and a hook and a lock that kept the cupboard safely secured inbetween meals. The auntie or uncle in charge of breakfast or supper, would take the key attached to a large wooden key chain, kept safe on a hook on the wall in the nearby staff lounge, and would ceremoniously open the cupboard. After prayers were sung or recited or spoken, children with treats were allowed to approach the cupboard to retrieve them.

My brother and I didn’t have liverworst or chocolate spread in a tube. We didn’t have small jars of marmite or vegemite. We didn’t have special cheeses in tins, imported jams or spreads. Mom made us a homemade hot chocolate mixture which we could stir into our powdered milk to make it more tolerable. She bottled special jars of apricot jam from fruit we had picked up in Hunza. She hunted down the boys on the hill who sold blackberries and she made delicious jam from that too. Those were our treats locked away in the cupboard. And although now, I can see that those were far more superior treasures, my childhood eyes didn’t quite see it that way.

Our things felt inferior and home-patched.

Until the year that Grandma Brown came to visit and brought a large glass jar of Cheez Whiz all the way from Canada. I’m sure Grandma brought other delicacies too but that jar of Cheez Whiz was precious. Mom put the jar away in a safe place until it was time for school. Then she brought it out and divided it between two plastic containers: one for Neil, one for me. And we packed it off to the safety of that treat cupboard. Now we had something special worth locking up. Now we had currency, social standing. We had power to share, power not to share. We had treats!

I didn’t know when the next treat might come. I suppose I assumed this was the last time I would ever have this remarkable special commodity. And so I learned to be selfish and horrid. I learned to hoard.

Years later, when Lowell and I were first in India, remarkably a package arrived in the mail. In it were packets of special spices and little boxes of jello, dessert mixes, chocolate chips. I marveled at all of it and then put it all away. We would save it. A couple of days later Lowell inquired after the treats. I told him we were saving them for a special day. At that moment Lowell began to convert me to his personal philosophy of generosity. He reasoned that treats were to be enjoyed. Where would the next treats go? We had to enjoy what was given to us so we’d have room for the next batch. Lowell taught me to share.

When we returned to Kansas in 2007 I had peculiar shopping habits born from this same notion of scarcity. The first several times I went grocery shopping I marveled at the availability of treats. They had salsa! I bought 3 jars. Wow….brown sugar! I bought 3 pounds. The next time I was out I happened on salsa and brown sugar again. I was so excited I bought 4 of each. And again….I was out grocery shopping and what joy I experienced when I saw salsa and brown sugar and powdered sugar and chocolate chips! I enthusiastically bought multiples of each. When the cupboards at home were packed and I was having to store extra “treats” under our bed in boxes and in the top of the closet I realized I had a problem. It took us over a year to consume the brown sugar and salsa I had stashed.

God has certainly done His part in trying to undo my sense of deprivation and convince me of what is true. There is no end to his generosity. There is no lack in his kindness. He loves to lavish good gift upon good gift. It oozes out of who He is. He is full of grace: good and generous. He is a Loving Father doting on his children. It pleases him to meet our needs extravagantly. Two years ago we were able to buy our dream car…. It felt so ridiculous…but we did it: a Toyota Prius! Our freezer was filled with meat last winter by kind friends. Last fall I got a check in the mail for $300 with clear instructions that it was just for me! (not the kids, nor the bills, not for the practical needs, nor for the squeaky wheels of family life…!) It was just for my pleasure. Astounding! Who does that? Last week some friends of my parents said they’d like to buy us new living room furniture to replace our current finds (a hand-me-down couch of a particular Kelly green hue, a chair we found in the snow by the side of the road 6 years ago, a garage sale $5 chair that is now shredded and unsightly) —this is unheard of! This is pure generosity, grace, gratuity, gift!

Over the years, painstakingly slowly, I have learned to be more openhanded. I have seen a steady stream of treats come in to our lives and I’ve found joy in sharing those and extending the happiness with others. Truth be told, when I look back on my story, I’ve really never been treat-less. There have always been little extras, little extravagancies. It’s baffling, humbling, overwhelming. It makes me cry!

It continues to perplex me that Cheez Whiz, of all things, would be the thing that communicated with my greed, wanting to convince me to keep it all for myself. However as I open the jar and pass it around I learn more about God and grace and family and joy.

What about you? Have you struggled with a poverty mentality, particularly as it relates to God and his good gifts? 

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7 thoughts on “Lessons from the Cheez Whiz Jar

  1. Hey Robynn, this is something that really touches my heart in many ways. I remember that cupboard well, but for me it was the feastings jars that I remember greedily tucking into. Instead of the planned one or two a day, I would sneak a handful at a time and then find myself with nothing in the last couple of weeks of term. I really battle with greed and FOMO – the fear of missing out. Also, as I’ve grown up, I realized that I battle with this ‘missionary’ thinking that God could never want me to have nice things because that would be ‘wasting’ his resources when there are so many people who have absolutely nothing. I came home at age 18 and would pass homeless people on the street and be wracked with guilt for taking a trip to see my family whom I hadn’t seen in a year or even just for buying clothes or food. I still very much struggle with this. I find that in the church too there is a certain unspoken accusation that if a person asks God for something they would like then they have succumbed to Prosperity Teaching (the ultimate evil apparently!). And yet! The Bible is full of God’s promises of blessings to his people, his love for us and his desire to rain down on us more than we can even handle. I think as MKs we have somehow missed out on what your Lowell so beautifully showed you, that God is a loving father to ALL of his children, not just the ones in poverty and that he wants us to live in such an open handed generous way that we enjoy his love and his blessing to us and that they overflow and bless every person and nation around us.

    ooops. did I get carried away?


  2. Thanks for sharing that Robynn. You have unpacked and communicated what many of us will identify with so wonderfully. (I too just got home made jam and felt a little short changed at the time.)


  3. Excellent post. It’s fascinating to see what constitutes a treat, and how differently people see belongings.

    When I brought my fiancee from Colombia to become my wife a year and a half ago and we moved into our new home in Florida, I began to see my furniture and clothes for the shabby worn things they were! We have made numerous trips to Goodwill to get rid of old stuff, and have slowly been furnishing the house with elegant and attractive furniture and decor. My wardrobe has changed completely as my wife has replaced my faded old garments with colorful brand-name clothes. My 2000 Grand Caravan’s transmission went out, so we gave it away and replaced it with a 2014 Toyota Corolla, my first new car.

    Several factors work together to make Christians (especially missionaries) uneasy about material prosperity: living on donations, a handful of Scriptural references, comparison with others… Ironically, we sometimes end up clinging to belongings in a most ungodly way, as with your hoarding!


    1. I would love a longer conversation about this with you! It’s true! So many times I think missionaries hide behind perceived poverty as a way to protect themselves…. Hmmmm. you’ve made me think! There’s likely another blog post lurking here.


  4. Robynn, this touched me deeply. I lived in post-Soviet Central Asia in the early 90s, so I am far too familiar with the hoard mentality. From the time the serpent cast doubt into the mind of Eve and Adam about God’s generosity, we have been plagued with those same temptations to hold things tightly instead of acting as conduits of grace and blessing. The odd thing is, Christendom tends to blame contemporary secular society for our insatiable appetites. Thanks for sharing the truth so candidly.


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