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?