A Ten-Dollar Coupon and My Poverty of Soul

ten dollar coupon

The ten-dollar coupon had grown hot in my hand. Literally. I was clutching it tightly. I was doing something I have never done: Arriving at Macy’s at seven in the morning, at the ready for the Big.Sale.

Truth is – I had only just realized Macy’s was having a Big.Sale. The coupon and the sale had been simultaneously discovered. If there’s a coupon, that means you need something, right?

So.Wrong.

I had limited time and I could feel my body growing hot with frustration. This sweater? No. That one? The blue one is pretty, I have too much black. Oh – I can’t buy that one! That’s only twelve dollars and I’m supposed to spend twenty-five in order to get the coupon. Frustration rising I picked out a sweater and began heading to the cashier. The cashier was nowhere to be found – it was after all seven in the morning…..

And right there in the aisle where glitter and sequins met designer jeans, I stopped, assaulted by the irony.

Earnestly shopping for something I didn’t need because I had a coupon. With a rueful sigh I put the sweater on the nearest rack I could find, and there it sat – a bright, blue miserable reminder among all the black, gold, and red glitter of seasonal items.

I headed toward the exit, stopping only to give the coupon away. The woman smiled at me gratefully — who doesn’t love a deal.

The sorry truth of who I was and how I was behaving felt like the 25 degree Farenheit temperature and wind that whipped my face as I stepped outside. It felt icy cold and I wanted to escape.

All for a ten-dollar coupon. Wasted time and sick in my soul, I felt all of it acutely.

It’s my own hypocrisy, my own poverty of soul that slaps me in the face like icy weather. I am so dang good at pointing out the flaws in our society, in other Christians, in America in general (for the arguably big baby that it is). But at the end of the day, the only person I can change is myself.

I think about this season – Advent, Christmas, Nativity, Holiday. The season of Advent differs profoundly from the “Holiday Season” as celebrated in the Western world. Advent brings waiting, hope, and a promise. The holiday season brings coupons, stress, frustration, and poverty of soul.

How do I continually bring myself back to Advent?  It starts today with giving up a sweaty ten-dollar coupon and admitting the poverty in my soul. Tomorrow it may mean something else. But today is what I have.

What about you? Have you ever found yourself with a coupon that grew hot in your hand? How do you separate Advent and Christmas from the Holiday Season? 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/shirts-exhibition-shop-shopping-428627/

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Ten Things You Can Do on Friday (Instead of Going Shopping)

English: DC USA, Best Buy, Black Friday

For those who live in the United States, it’s that time of the year again — that time where one day we gather, thankful for all that has been given us, basking in the warmth of family, friends, and food. And the next, we beat down our fellow-man, mobbing our way into stores to earnestly shop for that which we don’t need.

For those from other parts of the world, the day after Thanksgiving is called ‘Black Friday’. It’s a day that begins the night of Thanksgiving as employees are called away from their celebrations to ready themselves and their stores for the onslaught of shoppers. These shoppers will begin their quest for more material goods right when Cinderella loses her shoe and turns back into a scullery maid – the stroke of midnight.

I’m harsh. Yes – I think ‘Black Friday’ deserves harsh. I don’t think there is anything redeeming about this day and none of us are the better for it. And I can honestly say, I’ve never gone shopping on Black Friday. It just isn’t worth it.

So here are some thoughts on what we can do instead of going shopping. Please add your own to the list through the comments!

  1. Bring out that one thousand piece jigsaw puzzle that’s sitting in your closet and complete it while drinking hot cider and enjoying leftover turkey sandwiches.
  2. Write letters – yes, paper and pen letters – to three people you care about. Why three? It’s a random number but paper and pen letters are collectibles these days. Imagine the look on your friend’s or relative’s face as they go to the mail box and see a handwritten envelope. Pure shock and delight.
  3. Make homemade granola to give as gifts to people. Here are a couple of recipes you can try. Homemade granola is a great gift and the bonus is that you can keep some for yourself.
  4. Sort through a couple of closets. Christmas is coming and clutter needs to go. Get into those closets and sort, get rid of, throw away. The catharsis is unbelievable.
  5. Watch the Anne of Green Gables series on Netflix. Or Call the Midwife, or Downton Abbey. Something that will keep you immersed in stories and dreams.
  6. Go hiking – put on sensible shoes (I say this because I don’t always do that) and find some hiking trails or take a long walk in the woods. Perhaps you’re like me and you need to drive to find hiking trails- then drive and walk all that energy that would have been used getting more of what you don’t need. Take a thermous of hot cocoa with you and some sandwiches in case you get hungry.
  7. Clean – God knows our houses need it! We’ve just had Thanksgiving and food and stuff are everywhere. So take out dust pan, broom,and duster and channel your energy into creating a haven of clean.
  8. Call your mom. Call your Grandma. Call your Aunt. Use the time to reconnect with others who are escaping the frenetic pace of Black Friday. Then bake bread – Holy, life-giving bread.
  9. Play games: Boggle, Guesstures, Bananagrams, Taboo, Settlers of Catan. So many choices, perhaps some you’ve never opened. Take them out and play games.
  10. Use the day to just rest and read. Jhumpa Lahiri has a new book out: The Lowlands, a sad but good read. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a fabulous little book that will be a family favorite I guarantee. Curl up into a ball on the couch and read, read, read. Let the kids play on the floor beside you – Through a sheet over your dining room table and they have a ready-made tent where they can spend the day imagining. And you? You’ll sit and read and relax and bask in all things good, all things calm.

This is a simple list. But isn’t it time we changed this cultural norm and took back the Friday after Thanksgiving?

Readers from other countries – I’m curious! When you hear about our Black Friday, what do you think? How would you advise us to live on that day? And Readers from the U.S. – what about you? What would you add to the list? What do you plan to do on the Friday following Thanksgiving?

How I Lost 580 Pounds This Summer

I love this post on Simplicity from Robynn! Enjoy and be challenged!

I’m always intrigued by the glossy magazine covers that claim with great enthusiasm that I can lose 25 pounds in 5 weeks. Even more perplexing are the ones that insist I can do that while eating cake and ice cream. I have struggled with my weight since I left Pakistan, 25 years ago arrived in Canada’s cafeteria and discovered that at least the food was comforting. During my first two years of reentry into my passport country I gained 60 pounds.

But this summer I finally discovered how to lose weight! And I’ve lost over 580 pounds!

This summer I rediscovered the joys of the spiritual habit of simplicity and I’ve gotten rid of over 580 pounds of stuff. I feel lighter, and freer. I’m experiencing more joy, less stress. I’m less weighed down. Less encumbered.

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It’s hard to describe how this works but somehow our souls are often tied to our stuff. Stuff bogs us down and trips us up. Our clutter, knick-knacks, tchotchkes, Precious Moment’s figurines have a way of moving off the shelves, off the end tables, off the desk and into our spirits. It takes over. Stuff, like a first-born, has power and takes charge. She starts dictating how I spend my day. She breaks and demands attention. She whines and I take notice. I find myself coddling her, moving her around, moving her over to make room for more.

And all the while my soul is deadened and darkened and dulled.

For me sin in spiraling circles hides in the shadows of stuff. I want more. I get greedy. I need a bigger house. I feel sorry for myself. I only have a few. I judge those with more. I deserve a bigger collection. I am jealous of those who have more. I feel angry at God for holding out on me. I regret not having more money to buy what I need to make my collection complete. I wish I had more money to buy the house to house what I have and what I still need to get. I demand. I plead. I whine. Lust for stuff steals my limited joy. My satisfaction is eroded. Suddenly I’m absorbed in me.

Stopping it is so sweetly simple and yet is met with unimaginable resistance. Just stop. Purge. Give away. Less really is more and you’ll know it right away. Stuff sets traps. Lightening our load sidesteps those same traps.

We begin to live with No Thanks, and I’m Fine Thank You and I Don’t Need It. Contentment and satisfaction move in swiftly.

And that’s how I lost so much weight. We got rid of some bunk beds, a dresser, a desk, stacks of books, piles of clothes. Two garbage bags of stuffed animals joined the exodus. A coffee pot I no longer use, a stack of plates, some glasses, a couple of tea cups all went down to the Goodwill. The kids have joined the fun. They’ve gone through their drawers too. They have eliminated things they no longer love, clothes they no longer wear!

This is a weight loss program that really works…!

I have less baggage. And as a pilgrim just passing through that feels simply divine!

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Rewards Programs

The school year is coming to an end here in Kansas. We are attending recitals, concerts, assemblies and awards programs. Our children are being promoted to the next grade level, high school seniors are graduating, teachers are retiring. There’s a lot to commend, a lot to celebrate.

But I’m not talking about Awards Programs.

I’m talking about Rewards Programs.

On Wednesday I had a long list of errands to run. One of those included stopping off at the bank and depositing cheques. Lowell and I had a couple to deposit. Connor had another two, plus his shared tips from the restaurant and Adelaide, our newest bank account holder, also had one. As I was concluding my deposit stack the bank clerk so sweetly asked me, “Ms Bliss are you signed up for our rewards program?” I looked her in the face. I made eye contact. And in that moment I had a wave of bravery come over me. I was honest and I replied, “I am…but I have no idea what I’m saving points for. I can’t figure out how to access them nor do I know what good they do me!”

She pulled out a little brochure (which I already have, but I didn’t tell her that) and she began her speal. “All you do is go to this website and register your blah blah blah”…. I tuned her out. I’ve heard it all before but it just sounds like too much work. I don’t really understand it and the effort involved makes me tired.

walgreens-balance-rewardsAnd the bank isn’t the only Rewards Program I’m signed up for. Attached to my key chain are the grocery store Plus points cards (I understand and appreciate that one….it brings down the price of our gas!), a Walgreen’s Balance Rewards card (the checkout clerk who signed me up was fuzzy on what this did for me. Savings? Discounts? He couldn’t tell me. Perhaps he got Rewards for signing people up for the Rewards card?), a self-evident Staples Ink and Toner Savings Pass, a Borders rewards card (are they still in business?), a My Panera member card (I think this one accumulates free treats but it hasn’t worked yet), a Hastings Entertainment Passport (Passport?? Sure you can call it that as long as you understand that when you go through “immigration” it costs you!), a Dick’s Sporting Goods Scorecard rewards card (I think we bought something there once…) and a Shop Your Way Rewards card.

What exactly are they rewarding me for? As far as I can figure, and I could be way off on this, they are rewarding me for shopping, for spending, for the frenzy, for buying!

Really?!

Several years ago we were in a very fancy mall in Dubai. It was early January. Christmas was over but there were lingering decorations and pretties in the shops. I saw a sign on one store window that surprised me. In beautiful calligraphy, as only the Middle East cultures can do, in a large font was scrolled the words, “The Spirit of….” I expected it to finish up with the word, “Christmas”. That would have been surprising enough in Dubai, a city and culture that doesn’t typically celebrate the birth of the Christ-child. But what I read shocked me even more. The sign read, “The Spirit of…..Shopping!”

That is wrong on so many levels.

We have an economy based on need and greed, supply and demand. We are being rewarded for participating in the system. Whether we need it or not, whether we already have it or not, whether we have too much of it or not…..Buy! Shop! Spend!

The ancient spiritual discipline of simplicity isn’t available in aisle 7 in your department store. You can’t purchase it anywhere. It’s found in giving away, in self-control, in generosity. It’s likely found outside, in the woods, at the park, on the front porch. It’s probably found in solitude or with friends around a meal. There’s less rush and frenzy in simplicity. There’s more freedom and simple joys.

Simplicity gives you the space to breathe, to connect with God, with friends, with your children. Simplicity sees through the deception and discerns, “I don’t really need that! It’s not going to make me happy”. Simplicity breeds contentment and gratitude.

I recently spoke on five different spiritual habits or practices at a retreat in Alberta. One of the practices I taught on was Simplicity. This week I got a letter in the mail from my friend who invited me to speak in the first place. She wrote, “Oh, and I have to tell you the ‘simplicity’ talk obviously really hit home–(the Thrift Store where she volunteers) is overrun and people are trying to give away all kinds of stuff at church. Love it! Made me smile all week!”

And there are no points to be earned in that.You don’t have to register online. You don’t have to sign up for the Rewards Program, “It’ll only take a minute…!” It’s true, nothing is captured on a card,and yet–obviously– the rewards are numerous.

What about you? How do you find simplicity in our ever more complicated world? Would love to hear from you through the comments.

Walmart Convictions – A Black Friday Piece

Story of Stuff, Walmart StrikeAbout two years ago, my husband Lowell, declared that we needed to stop shopping at Walmart. In an effort to buy into his latest conviction, I asked him what one book I should read, or what one movie I should watch. I needed convincing.

Allow me to recommend to you the documentary that Lowell suggested entitled Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices. The documentary builds a case that suggests that Walmart successfully exploits the working poor here in our nation as well as the working poor in various countries where they have their products manufactured (China, Bangladesh, Guatemala etc). According to the film makers they also tend to drain community resources, provide health care that their employees can’t afford, refuse to pay their employees a livable wage, push local competitors out of business, and give back much less, if any, to the cities where they establish themselves. As a result of sexual discrimination and environmental negligence they’ve been engaged in several lawsuits and fines from the EPA. This documentary will break your heart with compassion and disbelief.

Although Walmart employees have in the past tried to speak out against the injustices they experience, they’ve been threatened and silenced. Today though is a momentous day. Today hundreds of Walmart workers are standing up against the establishment. They are striking on, perhaps the most significant shopping day of the year, Black Friday.

This week my husband Lowell received the attached email. It outlines more details of the strike and ways you and I can be involved.

It seems like the right thing to do…a quiet way to bask in the euphoric after-glow of too much turkey…a response rooted in gratitude for the freedoms we have…. It seems like a way to make a statement that says that how people are treated matters. On any other day of the year I want to shop where I know the employees are served with as much respect as the customer.

Today I want to sit at home, maybe do some laundry, make some soup. Today I too want to strike against this day of greed and craziness. Today I want to pray for the brave Walmart employees who are exercising their voice. Today I want to remember that there really is a high cost for low prices…and it’s a price I’m not willing to pay.

Dear Lowell,

This coming Friday, courageous workers at hundreds of Walmart stores around the United States will go on strike.

You likely know the story: Walmart employees earn low wages, receive hardly any benefits, and have little to no voice in their stores. When they’ve attempted to organize a union in the past to advocate for a fairer workplace, they’ve faced intimidation and layoffs.

This year, Walmart is even making some employees leave their Thanksgiving family gatherings to report to work so it can get the Black Friday shopping mayhem started early!

Nice one, Walmart.

Last week, we released a video that encouraged Americans to Choose Family over Frenzy on Black Friday. Rather than head to the mall, we suggested you share leftovers, play games, or enjoy a family tradition.

Today, we’re also asking you to join us in supporting these brave Walmart workers.

There’s no reason Walmart can’t treat its workers better. It makes gobs of money every year and its founders — the Waltons — are one of the richest families in the world. As a matter of fact, in 2010 the Waltons controlled more wealth than the bottom 40% of all Americans!

So, what do you say we show the Walton family a lesson in giving thanks by offering their workers some solidarity this week.

Thanks for your support!

Sincerely,

Annie, Michael, Allison, Renee, Naomi, Bill and Nicole
The Story of Stuff Project Team

P.S. If you haven’t watched or shared our Black Friday video, please take a minute to do that this week. And be sure to sign the pledge to stay home and share a picture of your mall-free Black Friday.

Re-post – Earnestly Looking For Something I Don’t Need – Black Friday Comes Again

It comes around like turkey and pumpkin pie. It’s as consistent as Thanksgiving itself. It begins promoting itself weeks before it actually happens. “It” is Black Friday. And while this is a re-post from last year I mean every word of it. For those of you who are not American– materialism is multicultural, we’ve just perfected and packaged it in ribbon and shiny paper in the west so I beg you to not judge too harshly.

DJ industrial average 1929 Black Friday
Image via Wikipedia

I ran into a store a few days ago with a specific item in mind to buy. I quickly found the area of the store and the right size and began narrowing down the decision. As I looked up from my task,I caught the eye of a woman across from me. She hesitantly smiled and shook her head.  “I am earnestly looking for something I don’t need!” She exclaimed “But isn’t this cute?

“Earnestly looking for something I don’t need”. What a great and descriptive phrase! She’d probably wandered in off her lunch hour and the more she looked the more earnest she became. How do I know this so well? Because I’ve been there too many times to count. Those times when I wander in, knowing full well I don’t need anything, but how can I not get something with a 25% Friends and Family coupon burning in my hand? It’s getting hotter just waiting to be used on the thing that I don’t need.

And that my friends is Black Friday. Millions of people earnestly looking for something they don’t need. I rarely break out in judgement the way this will sound, but if Black Friday isn’t a picture of a schizophrenic society, I don’t know what is. A society that on the one hand worries about unemployment, personal budgets, and the economy, while the other hand is earnestly looking for something it doesn’t need.

A society holding its money close, for fear it won’t have enough to pay for that which it doesn’t need.

I am the first to fall in this area. For years I would bring home things that languished in closets or drawers, but I had picked them out so earnestly that I couldn’t admit that I didn’t need them.

I am sure that some people find this fun. Some people love the excitement of standing in line at midnight with their lattes and pillows. They bond with the crowd, until there’s someone who cuts in line and the bond is quickly broken with a curse and shove. At that point it could begin to resemble Tahrir Square. They bond until they are both fighting over the same 52″ flat screen TV selling for mere pennies. It will replace the 40″ flat screen TV that they got a year ago at a Black Friday event. They bond until someone is killed in the stampede, trampled to death from people earnestly looking for something they don’t need.

Interesting that this day should follow one of America’s favorites — a day devoted to thanks.

A national holiday specifically set aside to give thanks, to remember. What happens between pumpkin pie with whipped cream and midnight, when our base nature breaks out and we pummel the pavement in search of stuff?

So – I’m finished. I will say no more about Black Friday. But I will post this right when Black Friday begins, at the stroke of midnight, to remind myself that as I earnestly look for something I don’t need, I’m completely missing all that I have.

And with that…A Happy Black Friday to you. May you earnestly find that which you are looking for or may you rest in the U2 song “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for~” 

Earnestly Looking for Something I Don’t Need – A Look at Black Friday

DJ industrial average 1929 Black Friday
Image via Wikipedia

I ran into a store a few days ago with a specific item in mind to buy. I quickly found the area of the store and the right size and began narrowing down the decision. As I looked up from my task,I caught the eye of a woman across from me. She hesitantly smiled and shook her head.  “I am earnestly looking for something I don’t need!” She exclaimed “But isn’t this cute?

“Earnestly looking for something I don’t need”. What a great and descriptive phrase! She’d probably wandered in off her lunch hour and the more she looked the more earnest she became. How do I know this so well? Because I’ve been there too many times to count. Those times when I wander in, knowing full well I don’t need anything, but how can I not get something with a 25% Friends and Family coupon burning in my hand? It’s getting hotter just waiting to be used on the thing that I don’t need.

And that my friends is Black Friday. Millions of people earnestly looking for something they don’t need. I rarely break out in judgement the way this will sound, but if Black Friday isn’t a picture of a schizophrenic society, I don’t know what is. A society that on the one hand worries about unemployment, personal budgets, and the economy, while the other hand is earnestly looking for something it doesn’t need. A society holding its money close, for fear it won’t have enough to pay for that which it doesn’t need.

I am the first to fall in this area. For years I would bring home things that languished in closets or drawers, but I had picked them out so earnestly that I couldn’t admit that I didn’t need them.

I am sure that some people find this fun. Some people love the excitement of standing in line at midnight with their lattes and pillows. They bond with the crowd, until there’s someone who cuts in line and the bond is quickly broken with a curse and shove. At that point it could begin to resemble Tahrir Square. They bond until they are both fighting over the same 52″ flat screen TV selling for mere pennies. It will replace the 40″ flat screen TV that they got a year ago at a Black Friday event. They bond until someone is killed in the stampede, trampled to death from people earnestly looking for something they don’t need.

Interesting that this day should follow one of America’s favorites. A day devoted to thanks. A national holiday specifically set aside to give thanks, to remember. What happens between pumpkin pie with whipped cream and midnight, when our base nature breaks out and we pummel the pavement in search of stuff?

So – I’m finished. I will say no more about Black Friday. But I will post this right when Black Friday begins, at the stroke of midnight, to remind myself that as I earnestly look for something I don’t need, I’m completely missing all that I have.

And with that…A Happy Black Friday to you. May you earnestly find that which you are looking for! (And at least try to find some savings with this Lenovo coupon!)